Provost Thomas F. Rosenbaum and Vice President Karen Warren Coleman: Letter to Campus

Originally distributed November 6, 2013

With another year underway, we want to pause to reaffirm the University’s fundamental commitment to free expression. Free expression is a core value of the University, essential to our shared pursuit of knowledge. From its inception, the University has benefited from a wide range of perspectives and ideas. Those ideas are proposed, tested and debated in an atmosphere of rigorous inquiry and open discourse. Ideas are judged on their own merits, not on the status of the speaker. Out of that free exchange comes innovation and the growth of knowledge. This exchange is central to the University’s function and to our identity as scholars and students.


That culture of free discourse inevitably fosters conflicting ideas. We welcome the opportunity to investigate, challenge assumptions, and debate the merits of one another’s positions, inside and outside the classroom. In order to make that possible, we must protect the right of every member of our community to speak freely. That is a challenge to each of us — even as we express our own ideas, sometimes in the most vigorous terms, we have a responsibility to listen to competing ideas. We can disagree with and protest the speech of others, including invited guests, but not in a way that prohibits them from speaking. We do not expect our invited speakers to represent all views on a topic, but we do expect them to make room for questions and challenges. As a University, our practices and policies grow out of this understanding. As individuals, each of us must strive to uphold this commitment in our own work.


Even if you are new to the University this fall, you have probably encountered some discussion of free expression, and almost certainly you have watched it play out around you. Our community’s culture of unflinching inquiry is a source of pride and strength and one of the signature qualities of the University of Chicago. It will permit you to test and hone your ideas and to take full advantage of the many talents and varied perspectives of your peers in the service of discovery.