University responds to
The events of September
11 and the continuing violence in the Middle East have raised tensions everywhere,
and the Chicago campus has been no exception. Late in spring quarter a group of
undergraduate and graduate students met with members of the administration, including
Margo Marshak, then vice president and dean of students in the University, and
Deputy Dean William Michel, AB'92, to discuss a series of anti-Jewish incidents
in and outside the classroom.
incidents-detailed in a July student press release that was picked up by several
media outlets-included obscene graffiti scrawled on dorm posters for a pro-Zionist
meeting, anti-Semitic comments shouted from a car near campus, and a joke about
Auschwitz posted on a humanities department listserv. In addition, there were
allegations that a graduate student had refused to serve as adviser on a B.A.
paper about Zionism, and that some professors had used their classrooms as an
anti-Israel pulpit and graded students based on their political beliefs.
It was also reported that in the aftermath of September 11, University President
Don M. Randel had told the student press that the institution had a "zero
tolerance" policy on discrimination against Muslims, with no mention of a
similar policy on anti-Semitism.
In fact, as quoted
in the September 28, 2001, Chicago Maroon, President Randel instead had
assured the vice president of the Muslim Student Association that the University
had "zero tolerance for discrimination" of any sort, against any group.
Meanwhile, an investigation of the academic charges
found that the graduate student's reluctance to advise on the B.A. paper had to
do with a lack of expertise rather than political views, and to the undergraduate's
satisfaction, a professor had quickly stepped in as adviser. Investigating charges
of classroom bias, the provost's office found no grounds for action.
the "joke" on the listserv, about which several students complained,
was determined to be protected speech, the list was split into two, with opinion
mandated to be separate from official discussions. An investigation of the dorm
graffiti determined that the floor's housing staff did not take sufficiently strong
steps to address it. In response, this autumn the University sent a letter to
all housing-system residents to remind them that such behavior is inappropriate
The letter was one of many actions
that the University will take over the coming year to reinforce its commitment
to free speech in an atmosphere of civility and tolerance, Provost Richard Saller
says. This September's Orientation Week programming included a mock trial staged
in Mandel Hall, after which first-years gathered in small "juries" to
decide whether a student organization had the right to sponsor an on-campus teach-in
by the leader of a hate group. The students then divided into small, faculty-
or staff-led discussion groups, reconvening to hear the judges' decision.
addition, administrators have consulted Rabbi David M. Rosenberg, director of
the University's Newberger Hillel Center, and the Anti-Defamation League about
how best to respond to the complaints; during autumn quarter the faculty governing
bodies will discuss the appropriate boundaries of free speech. Any further incidents
will be investigated immediately, Saller says, with a concerted effort made to
ensure that students have a clear understanding of both the seriousness with which
the University addresses such issues and the grievance procedure.
all of these activities, notes Saller, the University will negotiate a long-standing
and delicate balance between its desire to "create an arena for free exchange
of ideas" and its commitment to providing an atmosphere in which individuals
feel safe and free from intimidation. "While we sometimes treat ideas here
rather roughly," Saller says, "we strive to treat others with the civility
we would like to receive ourselves." (For more from President Randal, see
From the President.) - Mary Ruth Yoe