CFN Member Lends Help to Free Speech Controversy at the University of Chicago

May 9, 2007

General Peter Pace is slated to deliver the keynote address at the annual management conference at the University of Chicago’s Graduate School of Business (GSB) on May 18. Nearly 1,000 people have signed a petition calling upon the GSB to rescind the invitation upon the grounds that General Pace’s prior statements regarding the military’s “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy are incongruent with “the University’s core values, longstanding nondiscrimination policies, and ongoing efforts to create a climate welcoming of diversity.”

University of Chicago PhD candidate and CFN member Adam Kissel wrote a letter published in the April 27, 2007, edition of The Maroon, the University of Chicago’s student paper. Adam wrote that in addition to diversity and nondiscrimination the University also values “freedom of speech and freedom of thought.” Those who disagree with GSB’s invitation should make “the case for denouncing Pace’s statements or actions” rather than seeking to eliminate his opportunity to speak.

On May 1, 2007, The Maroon published a staff editorial in support of Pace’s appearance on free speech grounds. The editorial pointed out that Pace’s appearance is not a de facto endorsement of his views on homosexuality or anything else. He is an influential government figure with a valuable perspective on management. The deans of the GSB had already voiced their disagreement with Pace’s views on homosexual acts.

The editorial makes the excellent point Adam made just a few days before and FIRE has made on many such occasions:

The best way to confront opinions you disagree with is through open dialogue—not by quashing speakers you don’t like.

The gay and lesbian community is already doing this by organizing efforts to express their disagreement with Pace and to facilitate discussion on homosexual issues. 

Furthermore, The Maroon editors point out the institutional importance of allowing all perspectives to be heard:

[U]niversities must not silence voices that are unpopular or marginalized, particularly when they are politically controversial. It is the duty of the University to protect all forms of diversity, including diversity of opinion.

If the University rescinded General Pace’s invitation at the behest of the petitioners, they would defenestrate any notion of political neutrality in direct violation of University policy. As the editorial says: “The job of the University is not to take a stance on the issue of the day, but rather to facilitate dynamic discussion about these controversies.” Thus far the University is keeping its distance from the political issues and allowing both sides to have their say. Constructive dialogue free of official censorship? Who would have thought one could find that at a university?