Where’s your Chicago Letter?

By David Bernstein

You may have heard that each year the Dean of Students at the University of Chicago sends a letter to incoming college freshmen that lays out the school’s commitment to the free expression of ideas:

Once here you will discover that one of the University of Chicago’s defining characteristics is our commitment to freedom of inquiry and expression […] Our commitment to academic freedom means that we do not support so-called “trigger warnings”, we do not cancel invited speakers because their topic might prove controversial, and we do not condone so-called intellectual “safe spaces”.

This stand is a sharp contrast to many other universities that routinely cave to student demands to restrict free expressions, impose safe spaces and give trigger warnings, and then end up facing endless controversies.While I’m quite sure that sending this letter to incoming students doesn’t spare the University of Chicago from every possible student or faculty challenge to free expression, it does allow the school to stand firm on a core set of values.The school can remind students of the letter and let them know that if they don’t like liberal discourse, they can always go elsewhere. It also spares the university the recurring internal fights that end up at the doorstep of some committee of the university’s Board of Trustees. It sets up a culture of free expression.

In recent years, companies and organizations have begun to face many of the same problems as universities.Young staffers, particularly those who didn’t attend the University of Chicago, increasingly demand that their employer implements highly ideological Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI) programs. While some employees readily embrace such diversity approaches, others resent what they perceive as indoctrination. In newsrooms, reporters and editors refuse to cover or include varied perspectives on racial justice and equity. In publishing houses, staffers insist that their company boycott popular authors.

At Counterweight, we frequently talk with the heads of organizations who don’t want this environment in their workplaces and would instead like to champion values of openness and freedom of expression.They don’t want to accede to demands from staff that they fire anyone who doesn’t toe a certain ideological line. But unlike the University of Chicago, these leaders have not clearly enunciated their values of free expression. They haven’t sent a letter to new employees articulating their culture of free expression and otherwise inculcated the value of viewpoint diversity throughout their organization.

It’s easier, of course, to establish the value of ‘viewpoint diversity’ when you are clear about what this means and what it looks like in practice. That’s where Counterweight can help.

To find out more about Viewpoint diversity consultancy services please email David Bernstein at DavidLBernstein66@gmail.com.

David Bernstein is an Affiliate at Counterweight and Principal of Viewpoint consulting. Follow him on Twitter @Blogunwoke.

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