A few weeks ago, John Ellison, Dean of Students at the University of Chicago, issued a letter to students of the class of 2020.  The letter identified one of the University’s “defining characteristics”:  its “commitment to freedom of inquiry and expression.”  Dean Ellison’s remarks grew out of the work of a committee, appointed in 2014 by President Robert J. Zimmer and Provost Eric D. Isaacs, whose charge was to articulate the vital principles of the University’s core mission.  In January 2015, the committee, comprised of seven distinguished professors, issued its report, defending “free, robust, and uninhibited debate and deliberation” in higher education.  The Board of Directors of the Alexander Hamilton Institute for the Study of Western Civilization (AHI) stands with the University of Chicago in endorsing these principles and calls on other colleges and universities to do the same.

Dean Ellison, in his letter to incoming students, underscored that “[o]ur commitment to academic freedom means that we do not support so-called ‘trigger warnings,’ we do not cancel invited speakers because their topics might prove controversial, and we do not condone the creation of intellectual ‘safe spaces’ where individuals can retreat from ideas and perspectives at odds with their own.”  President Zimmer and Provost Isaacs made clear that the work of the committee was prompted by “recent events nationwide that have tested institutional commitments to free and open discourse.”  The report of the committee stressed that higher education is put at risk by those who would seek to use campuses to “shield individuals from ideas and opinions they find unwelcome, disagreeable, or even deeply offensive. Although the University greatly values civility, and although all members of the University community share in the responsibility for maintaining a climate of mutual respect, concerns about civility and mutual respect can never be used as a justification for closing off discussion of ideas, however offensive or disagreeable those ideas may be to some members of our community.”

AHI Executive Director Robert Paquette congratulated the University of Chicago on this significant statement of principle and commitment.  “Now that the University of Chicago has brought light into the spreading darkness,” Paquette observed, “it will be increasingly difficult for lesser institutions, especially their boards of trustees, to remain silent in the face of campus thuggery and administrative social engineering.  AHI Board member Anne Neal also deserves applause, for while president of the American Council of Trustees and Alumni (ACTA) she issued a flurry of letters challenging colleges and universities to follow the path tread by the University of Chicago.  Alas, the silence of some was deafening.”

The AHI was founded in 2007 “to help cultivate a genuinely free marketplace of ideas” and “promote excellence in scholarship through the study of freedom, democracy and capitalism.”