A July statement by the University of Chicago English Department faculty announced “For the 2020-2021 graduate admissions cycle, the University of Chicago English Department is accepting only applicants interested in working in and with Black studies.”
The English Department’s move to block other areas of intellectual exploration was picked up this week by major news outlets, creating a lot of negative press for the university. While many were shocked by the English Department’s statement, as a third-year student at the University of Chicago, I was not.
Ironically, the University of Chicago prides itself on what they call the “Chicago Principles,” a mission statement claiming a commitment to protecting free speech and encouraging open debate. The publication of the Chicago Principles garnered the university a lot of media attention, kudos from parents concerned with leftist orthodoxy, and set the University of Chicago apart from other elite universities in its efforts to create an environment of political and ideological tolerance on campus. The principles have even been adopted by other schools.
Unfortunately, in practice, the University of Chicago is hardly a bastion of free speech and political tolerance. It socially and academically rewards groupthink. This summer university departments and administration officials have imposed their politics on the campus community, further emboldening a left-wing mob of students who routinely bully conservatives into silence.
Using University Resources to Push False Leftist Narratives
The faculty letter from the Graduate English Department is akin to a June email from the Physics Department Chair, Young-Kee Kim, sent after the death of George Floyd, a man who died in police custody while resisting arrest with a “fatal level” of fentanyl in his system, according to the Minnesota Judicial Branch.
Kim wrote that the “Physics Department is deeply committed to diversity, inclusion, and racial justice.” Kim continued, writing, “each of us needs to learn about the Black experience, study the systemic barriers, examine implicit biases, and take concrete actions to eliminate those barriers and biases.”
Kim then asks members of the Physics Department to join her and the EDI (Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion) Committee in dedicating June 10 to support the “#Strike4BlackLives,” “#ShutDownAcademia,” and “#ShutDownSTEM.” The June 10th “strike” website Kim directs students to, “Particles for Justice,” asks “non-Black scientists” to choose from a list of “suggested actions” to take during the strike.
In June, Emilio Kourí, the chair of the History Department, sent a different email, proclaiming the University of Chicago History Department stands in “solidarity with the ongoing protests, grief, and righteous rage being voiced across the country…” The email pledged allegiance and support to the self-proclaimed Marxist group, reading, “We collectively affirm that Black Lives Matter.” The capitalization “Black Lives Matter” points to the organization Black Lives Matter.
BLM goes far beyond supporting “mainstream” leftist positions, such as socialized health care and dramatically increased taxes. BLM’s platform calls for much more radical policies. These include creating socialism in black communities, instituting reparations (including to people residing in the United States illegally), defunding the police, and perhaps most disturbing is “disrupt[ing] the Western-prescribed nuclear family structure.”
Not only is the highly political email inappropriate, but it is also insensitive to the thousands who have lost their livelihoods and lives at the hands of BLM riots that have roiled America’s cities, big and small, all summer. As a University of Chicago history major, I am troubled that the History Department’s chair feels emboldened enough to make divisive and political statements on behalf of the entire department. I am not alone.
Professor Rachel Fulton Brown, a university associate professor of medieval history, told The Federalist that the email on behalf of the History Department in June 2020 violated the statement senior members of the department put out in September 2017. The 2017 History Department statement affirms, “As a faculty body, the Department of History does not endorse or defend the scholarly, political or personal views expressed by any of its members.”
“I expressed to Professor Kourí my discomfort with the June 2020 statement being issued without signatures and with the implication that it spoke for the department as a whole,” Fulton Brown said. “I myself do not see how the June 2020 statement is congruent either with the senior faculty’s previous position nor with the Chicago Principles to which we as an institution have previously adhered.”
Constant Politicization of Study
The English, physics, and history Departments are not outliers. I also received a slew of highly political and divisive emails from top members of the university administration following the death of George Floyd and the eruption of Black Lives Matter riots across the country.
Here is another email I received, this time from the dean of students, Jay Ellison. In addition to proclaiming a trend of violence against “people of color,” the dean dubbed the death of George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, and Breonna Taylor “murder,” even though none of these cases have yet been decided as comprising murder in a court of law.
Ka Yee C. Lee, the university Provost, claimed in another unprofessional email that Floyd’s death was “racially motivated.” She also affirmed, “These recent examples represent a small fraction of the bias and violence that occurs across the U.S. and around the world each day.”
This email from former university president Robert J. Zimmer and Lee stated that “the recent killings of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery and too many others” show there is no “true freedom and equality” in America. They continued writing that “The promise of freedom remains out of reach for many unless we as individuals and a society act to make it so for everyone.”
These are not neutral takes from the university administration. Many people in the United States still believe that America is the land of opportunity and freedom, not racism and oppression.
As The Federalist’s Joy Pullmann puts it, “If the United States were a racist country committing black genocide, you would expect to see black and Hispanic Americans leaving, not trying to get in. When people are targeted for genocide, they flee. But no Americans of any ancestry are fleeing this country en masse. We are a country that has to put up walls to keep people out, unlike the nations with actual gulags that put up walls to keep people in.”
Opposing Socialism Generates Death Threat
In March, I participated in a University of Chicago’s “nonpartisan” Institute of Politics (IOP) digital initiative, called “I vote because…,” where students pose with a small whiteboard stating their personal reasons for voting. I wrote, “I vote because the coronavirus won’t destroy America, but socialism will.”
I was naïvely unprepared for the onslaught of online hate and threats of violence I received. Fellow students attacked my character, intellect, family, and appearance using foul and offensive language. I was called a racist and a xenophobe. Some compared me to animals. Others declared I deserved to be bullied and that I don’t belong at the University of Chicago on account of my beliefs. I was told I was the most hated person on campus.
For days, I pored over vile posts and comments. I was in shock and emotional distress. I didn’t defend myself. In fact, I didn’t respond to a single comment or post about me online, whether it was negative or positive. It wasn’t until I received a death threat from one of my classmates that I made the decision to write an op-ed, sharing my side of the story and defending what I wrote on my whiteboard.
Following the publication of my op-ed, David Axelrod released a statement on behalf of the Institute of Politics condemning the violence and personal attacks I received. Although I was grateful for Axelrod’s statement, it, unfortunately, validated the defamation of character students employed in calling me xenophobic and racist.
Axelrod wrote, “While the author is right when she proclaims that the virus will ‘not destroy America,’ the minimization of it was offensive to those who have loved ones here and overseas who have been infected or whose lives have been disrupted — which may very quickly include all of us — in large ways and small.”
What happened to me is exactly why university imposed politics is so damaging. I hoped that my experience would have inspired students, faculty, and the administration to reexamine campus culture and recommit to the Chicago Principles. Instead, the administration and department heads at the University of Chicago created a hyper-partisan culture through emails and other official means, sending an implied message that silences debate on important issues.
By using my tuition dollars to cast themselves as moral arbiters, dissenters are automatically categorized as racist or anti-justice. This emboldens leftists on campus, who already wield an outsized voice and power. In short, it inspires a mob mentality. Unfortunately, dissenting students, who saw what happened to me, are more scared than ever to speak their minds on campus.
Needless to say, lending the official imprimatur of the university to one political side creates a culture of intolerance and active exclusion of students and professors with opposing points of view. This is contrary to the University of Chicago’s stated mission and it is, sadly, making an already hostile political climate on campus even worse.