The Chicago principles are a set of guiding principles intended to demonstrate a commitment to freedom of speech and freedom of expression on college campuses in the United States. Initially adopted by the University of Chicago following a report issued by a designated Committee on Freedom of Expression in 2014 (″Report of the Committee on Freedom of Expression″), they came to be known as the “Chicago principles”, as the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) led a campaign to encourage other universities across the country sign up to the principles or model their own based on similar goals.
Since 2014, a number of other universities have committed to the principles, including Princeton, Purdue, and Washington University in St. Louis. As of April 2022, FIRE reported that 84 U.S. colleges and universities had "adopted or endorsed the Chicago Statement or a substantially similar statement."
Context and formulation
Following a series of incidents in 2014 where students at various schools sought to prevent controversial commencement speakers, the Committee on Freedom of Expression at the University of Chicago was formed and charged by the President Robert J. Zimmer and Provost Eric D. Isaacs in July 2014, to draft a statement that would articulate the University of Chicago's "overarching commitment to free, robust, and uninhibited debate and deliberation among all members of the University’s community."
The report cited historical precedents by former University presidents, William Rainey Harper in 1902, Robert M. Hutchins in 1932,[Notes 1] Edward H. Levi in 1968, and Hanna Holborn Gray, who was president from 1978 to 1993. The committee returned a report which re-emphasized the school's commitment to principles of free expression as "an essential element of the University’s culture." The report clarified that the responsibility on the part of the university community for maintaining a climate of civility and mutual respect, is not a justification to prevent "discussion of ideas, even if "some or even by most members of the University" find them "disagreeable", "offensive, unwise, immoral, or wrong-headed."
"Narrow exceptions to the general principle of freedom of expression" may include restrictions on "expression that violates the law, that falsely defames a specific individual, that constitutes a genuine threat or harassment, that unjustifiably invades substantial privacy or confidentiality interests, or that is otherwise directly incompatible with the functioning of the University. In addition, the University may reasonably regulate the time, place, and manner of expression to ensure that it does not disrupt the ordinary activities of the University."
The committee wrote that the University's responsibility is twofold, to "promote a lively and fearless freedom of debate and deliberation, but also to protect that freedom when others attempt to restrict it."
The University's commitment to free speech gained national media attention in August 2016, when Dean of Students John Ellison sent a letter to the incoming freshman class of 2020 affirming the free speech principles and stating that the University did not support the use of trigger warnings or safe spaces. In adopting the principles, Purdue president, Mitch Daniels later said “we didn’t see how we could improve on the language.”
While the campaign to adopt the Chicago principles has gained traction among private universities, some critics have challenged the cut-and-paste nature of the principles as discouraging active debate on university campuses. Some social reform activists argue that the campaign is a University of Chicago marketing ploy or a way to ignore student activism.
- Society for Academic Freedom and Scholarship
- National Association of Scholars
- Heterodox Academy
- Academic freedom
- Hutchins defended the right of the students to invite a Communist Party member, William Z. Foster.
- Zimmer, Robert J.; Isaacs, Eric D.; et al. "Report of the Committee on Freedom of Expression" (PDF). uchicago.edu. Committee on Freedom of Expression at the University of Chicago. Retrieved 31 July 2018.
- "FIRE launches campaign in support of University of Chicago Free Speech Statement". thefire.org/. September 2015. Retrieved 2019-03-16.
- "Purdue adopts 'Chicago principles' to protect free speech". chicagotribune.com. 3 May 2015. Retrieved 2017-03-29.
- "Opening inquiry | The University of Chicago Magazine". mag.uchicago.edu. Retrieved 2017-03-29.
- Kingkade, Tyler (2015-05-15). "Purdue Takes A Stand For Free Speech, No Matter How Offensive Or Unwise". Huffington Post. Retrieved 2017-03-29.
- "Chicago Statement: University and Faculty Body Support". www.thefire.org. 2022-04-05. Retrieved 2020-05-02.
- "Against Endorsing the Chicago Principles". InsideHigherEd. 11 Dec 2018. Retrieved 2019-03-16.
- "Freedom of Expression Resolution Based on University of Chicago Statement". thefire.org/. 3 Apr 2018. Retrieved 2019-03-16.
- "When "Free Speech" Is a Marketing Ploy". slate.com/. 23 Mar 2018. Retrieved 2019-03-16.
- "What University Of Chicago Students Think Of Their School's Campaign Against 'Safe Spaces'". ThinkProgress. 27 Aug 2016. Retrieved 2019-03-16.
- Report of the Committee on Freedom of Expression (the 2014 report from the University of Chicago Committee)