For the second year in a row, the University of Chicago forced students to sign a “Required COVID-19 Attestation,” a lengthy document that demands students click “I agree” to a number of statements and rules regarding COVID-19.
UChicago, which last year was named America’s “No. 1 free speech campus,” is openly defying its commitment to academic freedom because the attestation goes far beyond forced compliance to inane COVID mandates — it actually thought-polices students.
Failure to sign my university’s attestation by last Monday meant your student ID was deactivated and you were banned from all university facilities, barring you from attending class.
In order to attend class, students are forced to “agree” in writing to the assertion that “COVID-19 poses a serious public health risk.” Students like me must also “agree” to the claim that “my failure to follow the [COVID-19] requirements,” like wearing a cloth over my mouth, “may endanger myself and/or others.”
Similarly, students who receive a religious exemption from UChicago’s COVID-19 vaccine mandate are forced to sign their names below a statement reading, “I acknowledge that I may be placing myself and others at risk of serious illness should I contract a disease that could have been prevented through proper vaccination.”
COVID-19 has a 99.5 percent survival rate or better for those younger than 65. To my healthy peers and me at the University of Chicago, COVID-19 poses less of a threat than pneumonia or the seasonal flu. But in order to attend class, we must sign our names to COVID-19 hysteria, by attesting we believe COVID “poses a serious public health risk.”
Never mind that this insistence that COVID-19 poses a “serious health risk” is performative and has allowed government officials to seize extraordinary liberties from Americans — everything from running a business to traveling freely.
I am also not “endanger[ing] myself and/or others” by refusing to submit to the university’s draconian health measures. Masks, for example, haven’t even proven to be effective. And rules like mask-wearing and social distancing, which will allegedly “save lives,” are often ignored by the very government and health officials issuing them.
Commitments to Free Speech Are Now Meaningless
Yet UChicago, which is revered for its purported dedication to free thought, provides no option for students to disagree with the claims in its COVID-19 attestation. In order to attend the in-person classes for which we pay tuition, all students must submit to the university’s point of view, without any questions asked.
The statements we are forced to “agree” to are ludicrous, but, more importantly, students should never be forced to say they adhere to any belief or ideology just to obtain an education. It’s nothing short of Orwellian to tell students that in order to engage in the classroom’s free exchange of ideas, we must have the same dogmatic opinion on COVID-19 as the University of Chicago’s administration.
The University of Chicago is world-famous for its “Chicago Principles,” a mission statement that professes a commitment to protect free speech and encourages open debate at the university. The Chicago Principles have long been a staple of our campus community. They have inspired more than 80 other academic institutions to champion free speech. They’ve also earned the university both positive media attention and goodwill from alumni donors.
UChicago’s 2021 COVID-19 attestation not only tramples on the Chicago Principles, it violates the university’s cherished Kalven Report. The Kalven Report is a 1967 UChicago faculty committee report that warns if the university takes political positions, they might chill the environment for free expression and academic freedom. The report also emphasizes that it’s essential for the university to remain a place where individuals can explore new ideas and hold any intellectual positions they wish, without the university administration interfering.
The university’s COVID-19 attestation is a blatant and disturbing violation of both these celebrated documents because it is literally the university administration mandating a belief system for its students. The attestation also does not stop there. In addition to demanding mental submission to its claims, the attestation forces students to say they’ll report on their dissident peers.
Last year, UChicago implemented an anonymous COVID-19 violation reporting system known as the University of Chicago Accident Incident Reporting (UCAIR) System. Students who violated the university’s COVID red-tape were punished by university officials for functioning like normal human beings, i.e., for standing closer than six feet apart, wearing a mask improperly, or visiting each other’s dorm rooms. The system bred an environment of discrimination, fear, social shaming, and harassment.
This year’s attestation form once again requires students to support the Communist-style surveillance and snitch system by forcing them to “agree” to “promptly report” on their fellow classmates and/or teachers to campus authorities for violations of “the University’s safety policies and practices.”
Freedom of Thought Is a Public Health Hazard
COVID-19 compliance is not just subliminal, it’s physical. UChicago, like most universities in America, enacted a COVID-19 vaccine mandate, ignoring the science of natural immunity and setting a frightening precedent. A shameless violation of basic bioethics, the vaccine mandate forces students to undergo medical treatment that isn’t proven to be effective against the disease it seeks to prevent.
However, neither the political statements nor the vaccine mandate are intellectual mandates. Forcing students into medical procedures and wearing masks doesn’t mean students have to believe these measures are effective, worthwhile, or healthy. This is where the university’s COVID-19 attestation takes that next step, stripping students of the right to their own opinions.
Over a span of only about three years at UChicago, I have witnessed the school quickly turn the Chicago Principles and Kalven Report, the very reason I chose to attend UChicago, into empty words. The university went from imposing its politics via email to mandating students agree with them in order to attend class.
Americans should be able to look toward the university for rigorous debates on the science of COVID and the ethics of society’s response. Instead of living up to its academic ideals, UChicago has caged the minds of its student body by mandating they become an intellectual monolith.
I fear not only for the precedent the “COVID-19 Attestation” has set, but for the impression it leaves. My peers go to 2020’s allegedly “most free” university in America, yet most of my classmates are totally desensitized to the authoritarianism imposed on us via government and school mandates. We cannot expect the next generation to defend the principles established in the Constitution and Declaration of Independence if we are being taught that bodily autonomy and freedom of thought are public health hazards.
This story was originally published in the Chicago Thinker.