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Uncensored: U of Chicago makes free speech its hallmark

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Anton Ford, a philosophy professor associated with UofC Resists, leads chants at an event featuring Corey Lewandowski. Feng Ye/The Chicago Maroon

Media literacy, thorough event planning emphasized on hyper-tolerant campus

By CHRISTOPHER HEIMERMAN
For Illinois Press Association

CHICAGO – No American university is more committed to free speech on campus than the University of Chicago, according to a recent FIRE student survey.

Whether or not faculty and administrators are Spider-Man buffs, they subscribe to the sage advice of Peter Parker’s Uncle Ben, “With great power comes great responsibility.”

“This is important: Our faculty are not the kind of faculty that will just invite a speaker to come and have free reign,” Dean of Students Michele Rasmussen said. “It’s usually a defined program, where it’s an atmosphere for those ideas to be challenged.”

The university scored highest out of the 55 universities that took part in the survey conducted by The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, a nonprofit focused on protecting free speech rights on campuses.

The survey covered universities’ openness, how willing they are to invite a speaker to address controversial issues, self-expression and administrative support.

Geoffrey Stone (left), an Edward H. Levi distinguished law professor who’s filled various leadership positions at the university during his 47-year tenure, says the university has emphasized First Amendment rights since its inception in 1890.

GeoffreyStoneIn 2014, the university’s president, Robert Zimmer, addressed a nationwide trend of free speech challenges at universities by enlisting Stone and other distinguished professors to draft a statement clearly spelling out that under virtually no circumstances the university would prohibit free speech.

The “Chicago Principles” have since been adopted by 70-plus universities, including Princeton, Columbia, and multiple Big Ten universities, including the University of Illinois at Champaign-Urbana, which ranked 42nd in the survey. The University of Wisconsin was a notch above at 41st, and the U of I-Chicago was 44th.

The universities effectively lopped off the first half of the principles, which pertained to the University of Chicago specifically, but kept the universal elements.

Stone said arrogance often gets in the way of sharing intellectual property among higher education, “so adopting another’s statement is hard to do.”

Further, he said, universities have to be prepared for students and faculty who oppose expression of free speech from opposing or extreme viewpoints.

“It takes a good deal of courage, frankly,” Stone said. “It does piss off a lot of people.”

 

Media literacy is key

The crux of the “Chicago Principles” is summarized nicely in the document’s reference to a dissenting
opinion from Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes in a Sedition Act case in 1918.

“... The ultimate good desired is better reached by free trade in ideas – that the best test of truth is the
power of the thought to get itself accepted in the free competition of the market,” the dissent reads.
Stone said free expression was integral to desegregation, interracial marriage, and the women’s rights
movements.

“They would have been flat-out rejected without hesitation at different times in the past,” he said.

He said the university was among the first to offer benefits for gay marriages.

“At a point in the past, that would have been regarded as absurd,” Stone said. “Because we have allowed the advocacy of those challenging positions, we’ve learned and changed our minds about things. We always have to be open to challenges.”

The difference today, he readily concedes, is the speed at which information, and misinformation, travels. Five years ago, Stone began teaching a Freedom of Speech course that keyed on vetting information.

“We live in an environment where it’s more important than ever for people to be skeptical,” Stone said.

As baseless claims and conspiracy theories flood the media – both social media and broadcasts and print publications – consumers must scrutinize the content.

“Our students are living in that society. That’s the reality of the world we’re living in,” Stone said.

He said shielding students from misinformation fails to prepare them for the real world.

Three years ago, the university retooled its orientation program to emphasize media literacy to new students as soon as they arrived on campus. Not coincidentally, the university borrowed heavily from the orientation program of Purdue University – one of the first institutions to adopt and adapt the “Chicago Principles.”

MicheleRasmussen“We sort of returned the favor,” Rasmussen (left) said, laughing.

In a large venue, faculty, students and special guests speak, do a Q&A session and role-play. Videos of such figures as Barack Obama are shown. It’s all done in an hour.

“It’s not too preachy, and it brings some abstract concepts down to a level students can understand,” Rasmussen said. “It’s not effective to have a bunch of talking-head administrators.”

It was obviously difficult to conduct orientation virtually, she said. Another challenge has been meeting students at their level, given that about two-thirds of the University of Chicago’s students are graduate students.

“One could argue they’re even more diverse than undergrads,” Rasmussen said. “They represent different age groups, some have families, and they’re from different countries.”

Rasmussen said interactive modules have been built, and much of the First Amendment work has been folded into curriculum and separate exercises. For instance, the law school had its students write a speech code.

“It ended up looking a lot like the ‘Chicago Principles,’ ” Rasmussen said.

 

Infrastructure keeps events ‘on the rails’

Controversial figures are more than welcome to speak at a campus event – as long as they’re willing to be rebutted.

Many such events at the University of Chicago have failed to materialize, because speakers have refused to take part in a debate or a Q&A session.

“It wasn’t because of the political views,” Rasmussen said. “They weren’t willing to have the back-and-forth discourse.”

She said the university has “hundreds, if not thousands” of speakers on campus, and that faculty and administration collaborate to know what’s on the calendar and plan each event in such a way that “it doesn’t go off the rails.”

They designate protest areas, train staff to de-escalate situations, and provide ample security. Disrupting events is not allowed, and if interrupters persist, they’re removed.

“We take events management and planning very seriously,” Rasmussen said. “When you see a lot of events on a college campus that goes off the rails, when you dig a little deeper, it’s usually because of bad planning of the event. You need to do that work up front to ensure you have the kind of event you want.”

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MaroonHead

After kids broke a piñata that represented Donald Trump by hitting it with a long stick, the head of the piñata hung in front of the protesters. Feng Ye / The Chicago Maroon 

Rasmussen said the university has “had plenty of dust-ups over the years,” but its employees will neither be gagged nor disciplined for exercising their First Amendment rights.

“That just doesn’t happen at the University of Chicago,” she said. “This is not the kind of place where you’re going to see administrative overreach.”

Stone conceded it’s challenging to tell students and faculty they will hear ideas they find offensive, even revolting.

“That’s not easy, and the reason they have to learn to do that is they cannot trust anyone in positions of authority to decide what ideas cannot be spoken,” he said.

He and Rasmussen emphasized the university provides “safe spaces”, which are spelled out in the principles as various student organizations.

“You don’t have to just sit there, take it, and feel upset,” Rasmussen said. “There are places you can take your concerns, and get support. We do have safe places, where students can step out of a controversial situation.”

 

‘A slightly cynical point of view’

Rasmussen said there isn’t a threshold at which the university will determine a point of view too outrageous to be allowed on campus.

That doesn’t sit well with Caroline Kubzansky, a fourth-year senior who’s worked for The Maroon student newspaper since she set foot on campus. She’s now the managing editor, and is skeptical of the university’s motivations.

“I take a slightly cynical point of view on the university’s emphasis on free speech,” she said. “The university’s efforts have struck me as a marketing scheme.”

She said a culture of curiosity is a good thing, and that universities deserve credit for thinking outside the box, and outside the domain of scholars. But she thinks the university’s policy is perhaps too tolerant.

“[The Chicago Principles] is a way of saying that people don’t immediately tar and feather conservatives for what they have to say,” she said. “Sometimes it might be too good at not tarring and feathering people with reprehensible viewpoints.”

The university does not require its professors to provide content warnings before they introduce content that’s bound to be offensive to some, if not repulsive or potentially incendiary.

Kubzansky said that while she respects the policy, she’s grateful all the professors she’s had alert their students

“Most professors who care about that stuff will put it in anyway,” she said. “In the circles I run, it’s called manners. Try not to blindside someone with something offensive.

"The world is awful enough as it is.”

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FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Contact: Sara Davis
Habitat for Humanity of McHenry County
(815) 759-9002 ext. 102

sdavis@habitatmchenry.org
www.habitatmchenry.org

 

Habitat ReStores in Woodstock & McHenry
kick off Winter 2022 Donation Drive
 

McHENRY COUNTY — McHenry County residents can support the store that helps build homes by donating to the Habitat McHenry County ReStores Winter Donation Drive, happening now through Dec. 31!
 
With free and convenient pickup service, McHenry County residents can easily donate new and gently used household items, appliances, building materials, furniture, lighting fixtures, cabinets, and more!
 
The Habitat ReStores in Woodstock and McHenry carry gently used donations along with an excellent selection of new and like new furniture, tools, home d├ęcor, and more! Habitat ReStores are open to the general public for shopping and donation drop-offs from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday. Every purchase at a Habitat ReStore generates funds to help build, rehabilitate or repair Habitat for Humanity homes in McHenry County. Individuals and families applying to the Home Ownership program must complete a brief application, earn between 30% and 80% of the area median income based on their family size, and perform sweat equity to be considered for a home. 
 
“Every item donated to our ReStores helps to improve the lives of families in need of safe, affordable housing,” said Sara Davis, operations director for Habitat McHenry County, “This year alone, proceeds from our Habitat ReStores have helped us build and repair homes for more than 15 families in McHenry County.”
 
The Habitat ReStores rely heavily on the generosity of community donors, and all donations made through the 2022 Winter Donation Drive are tax deductible. For information about how to schedule a donation drop-off or pickup, email donations@habitatmchenry.org or call: 815-331-8153 ext. 302.
 
Habitat for Humanity ReStores – Woodstock, IL and McHenry, IL
Open to the public, Habitat ReStores are thrift home improvement stores and donation centers that sell building materials, appliances, furniture, and home decor at deep discounts to the communities they serve. In fiscal year 2021 alone, Habitat ReStores nationwide raised more than $76 million to help support Habitat's affordable housing mission while also diverting reusable material from landfills. All proceeds generated between both HFHMC ReStores are used to help build or improve homes in McHenry County. To shop, donate or volunteer, visit us online at www.habitatmchenry.org.

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FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Contact: Brandon Bergersen
Valley Orchard
(815) 332-9696

BrandonBergersen@hotmail.com

 

Valley Orchard celebrates 45 years in the community with 'Fall 45 Fest' on October 8

 

CHERRY VALLEY – Valley Orchard in Cherry Valley, Illinois, is one of the oldest orchards in the community and has been a destination for cherry picking, apple picking, and apple cider donuts for 45 years in northern Illinois. Every spring, summer, and fall it has been a spot for outdoor entertainment, farm market shopping, and cider slushes. On October 8, the orchard is commemorating all the roles it has played for the community throughout its 45 years in business with a daylong anniversary celebration called “The Fall 45 Fest”. 

The event will be celebrating with the community by offering a variety of fun activities from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. Saturday, October 8. This will include attractions for guests of all ages including pumpkin carving and scarecrow building contests, children’s activities, an antique tractor show, yard games, multiple food trucks, and one free apple cider donut for every visitor. For the full schedule of events visit the Valley Orchard Facebook event. 

"I love growing apples, I have for 45 years," said Valley Orchard owner and operator Raoul Bergersen.

Bergersen went on to say how grew up with a love for farming.

"I had a friend that one day said, 'Hey, are you interested in doing an apple orchard?' I said, 'Sure, why not' and had absolutely no idea how to do it," Bergersen said when asked how it all started. "In retrospect, that was really foolish knowing what I know now," Bergersen said with a laugh. "But it was really fun."

Bergersen purchased the land in the Village of Cherry Valley in 1977. In the first year, he planted 1,800 apple trees which now have more than 5,000 trees on the 35-acre property.
 
With an array of apples, including their own handcrafted Johnalicious, berries, pumpkins, corn, and an abundance of rhubarb; visitors can find everything they need.

"You become friends with your customers," Bergersen said, “and we want to celebrate 45 years with them. I'm going to keep this up for as long as I possibly can, and hopefully my sons will continue something that I started 45 years ago."

Join Valley Orchard for 45 years of fun on October 8 from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. 

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