the University of Chicago has consistently managed to stand above the fray. In early 2015, Chicago’s president-appointed Committee on Freedom of Expression produced a refreshingly pro-free speech administrative report, which was ultimately circulated amongst similarly-minded institutions of higher learning as the eponymous “Chicago principles,” and even prompted then-Wall Street Journal columnist Bret Stephens to write glowinglyabout his alma mater in a widely-shared column. Chicago again made headlines last August for its decision to tell all first-year students that, as an institution, it emphatically rejects “safe spaces” and “trigger warnings.” This past February, the Journal once again celebrated the University’s intellectual and moral leadership on this issue.
Now, with modern campus brownshirts pusillanimously causing mayhem from Middlebury College all the way to UC-Berkeley, Chicago is once again assuming the mantle of national leadership. Specifically, my dear friend Matthew Foldi, a current third-year at the college and a precocious activist who appeared on Fox News last August to discuss the University’s strong anti-“safe space”/”trigger warning” stance, worked closely with the University’s administration to organize an initial pro-free speech national student conference, which took place this past weekend in the Windy City and included 25 student leaders from around 20 different colleges. Students heard from pro-free speech speakers hailing from across the political spectrum, with the ultimate goal of crafting a unified statement of principles to widely disperse.
Foldi, as the University of Chicago College Republicans’ president and a passionate pro-Israel advocate (he is the nephew of prominent American-Israeli pundit Caroline Glick and, truthfully, is just an all-around awesome guy except for the lamentable fact that he is…somehow…a vegetarian), is no stranger to the censorious bed-wetting temper tantrums of the anti-intellectual freedom crowd. He describes thusly the impetus for his working to organize the national student leader conference:
Far too many believe that college students monolithically support shutting down speech. Some of the bravest activists I know are standing up for free speech and expression, from California to the Midwest to New England, and beyond. We think this meeting was particularly important because it is a chance to show how an entirely student-run group can come together and work to change a dominant narrative. We’re already incredibly encouraged by the feedback we’ve received from around the nation, and are looking forward to continuing this momentum.
Why do this? A key component of a college education is challenging our beliefs, and free and open discourse is a crucial component of that*. Without rigorous inquiry, education is incomplete and meaningless. The recent violence at events from across the country is deeply disturbing. Additionally, our discourse has suffered with people siloing themselves from others who disagree with them. It was fantastic to have students from all over the country of all ideologies at the conference, all of whom agree that this is an issue worth fighting for.*
The first annual free speech national student conference was successful, and Foldi worked with all attendees to craft a statement of principles. The full statement reads:
WHY WE’RE HERE AND WHO WE ARE:
The Free Speech Movement began as an entirely student-led initiative. However, free speech has been increasingly undermined by attempts of students and administrators alike to silence those with whom they disagree. We seek to reclaim that original tradition with this student-created Statement of Principles.
We, the undersigned, stand united in our shared conviction that free expression is critical to our society, in spite of our differing backgrounds, perspectives, and ideologies.
WHAT WE BELIEVE:
A central purpose of education is to teach students to challenge themselves and engage with opposing perspectives. Our ability to listen to, wrestle with, and ultimately decide between contending viewpoints fosters mutual understanding as well as personal and societal growth. The active defense of free and open discourse is crucial for our society to continue to thrive as a democracy premised on the open debate of ideas.
The only way to achieve this is by cultivating a culture where all are free to communicate without fear of censorship or intimidation. While some speech may be objectionable and even hateful, constitutionally protected speech ought to be held and enforced as the standard and must not be infringed upon. As Justice Louis Brandeis observed exactly ninety years ago, “those who won our independence believed . . . that the path of safety lies in the opportunity to discuss freely supposed grievance and proposed remedies,” and that “the fitting remedy for evil counsels” is not disruption, violence, or suppression, “but good ones.”
WHAT YOU CAN DO:
Our vision is to foster a nationwide community of students, faculty, staff, alumni, and other friends who support free expression. If you share our passion for free speech, viewpoint diversity, and open discourse, please sign onto this Statement of Principles and encourage your community to do the same.
I am a proud University of Chicago alumnus this week, and I also could not be prouder of my good friend Matthew Foldi. Together, along with other pro-free speech student leaders such as Foldi’s own cousin Steven Glick, the forces of intellectual freedom and open discourse can—and will—rebuff the modern campus fascists.