The English department at the University of Chicago believes that Black Lives Matter, and that the lives of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Tony McDade, and Rayshard Brooks matter, as do thousands of others named and unnamed who have been subject to police violence. As literary scholars, we attend to the histories, atmospheres, and scenes of anti-Black racism and racial violence in the United States and across the world. We are committed to the struggle of Black and Indigenous people, and all racialized and dispossessed people, against inequality and brutality.
For the 2020-2021 graduate admissions cycle, the University of Chicago English Department is accepting only applicants interested in working in and with Black Studies. We understand Black Studies to be a capacious intellectual project that spans a variety of methodological approaches, fields, geographical areas, languages, and time periods. For more information on faculty and current graduate students in this area, please visit our Black Studies page.
The department is invested in the study of African American, African, and African diaspora literature and media, as well as in the histories of political struggle, collective action, and protest that Black, Indigenous and other racialized peoples have pursued, both here in the United States and in solidarity with international movements. Together with students, we attend both to literatureâ€™s capacity to normalize violence and derive pleasure from its aesthetic expression, and ways to use the representation of that violence to reorganize how we address making and breaking life. Our commitment is not just to ideas in the abstract, but also to activating histories of engaged art, debate, struggle, collective action, and counterrevolution as contexts for the emergence of ideas and narratives.
English as a discipline has a long history of providing aesthetic rationalizations for colonization, exploitation, extraction, and anti-Blackness. Our discipline is responsible for developing hierarchies of cultural production that have contributed directly to social and systemic determinations of whose lives matter and why. And while inroads have been made in terms of acknowledging the centrality of both individual literary works and collective histories of racialized and colonized people, there is still much to do as a discipline and as a department to build a more inclusive and equitable field for describing, studying, and teaching the relationship between aesthetics, representation, inequality, and power.
In light of this historical reality, we believe that undoing persistent, recalcitrant anti-Blackness in our discipline and in our institutions must be the collective responsibility of all faculty, here and elsewhere. In support of this aim, we have been expanding our range of research and teaching through recent hiring, mentorship, and admissions initiatives that have enriched our department with a number of Black scholars and scholars of color who are innovating in the study of the global contours of anti-Blackness and in the equally global project of Black freedom. Our collective enrichment is also a collective debt; this department reaffirms the urgency of ensuring institutional and intellectual support for colleagues and students working in the Black studies tradition, alongside whom we continue to deepen our intellectual commitments to this tradition. As such, we believe all scholars have a responsibility to know the literatures of African American, African diasporic, and colonized peoples, regardless of area of specialization, as a core competence of the profession.
You could as easily accuse any university English Department of systematically being anti-Lithuanian, anti-French, anti-Japanese, or anti-Eskimo (excuse me! Inuit) for its shameful neglect of the artistic legacy of any, or all, of the above, and for its “aesthetic rationalizations” of the unequal representation of Lithuanians, Frenchmen, &c. in their universities’ student bodies, in high-paying elite positions in American investment banks and Wall Street Law Firms, and in Supreme Court Appointments.
Personally, I think sane people with a deep interest in English Literature are just as well off not studying under such a collection of lachrymose and deranged Marxists as apparently currently infest Chicago’s English Department.
The University of Chicago president defended his schoolâ€™s commitment to free speech in an address to the City Club of Cleveland.
University of Chicago President Robert Zimmer said during a speech on Oct. 3 that â€œchallenging one’s assumptions inevitably creates discomfort, but a discomfort that is necessary for growth, understanding, and achievement.” Zimmer continued by describing what he believed to be three contributing causes of a decreased commitment to freedom of expression across U.S. universities.
â€œPrivileging feelings, to the extent that a child feels they are always entitled to feel good and comfortable, and that the world should be organized around this, is not helpful in this regard.”
â€œSome people are trying to keep certain views unexpressed out of self-righteous, moral, or political indignation, an agenda driven by such moral or political views, and comfort, arrogating to themselves and those they agree with the right of speech, while denying it to others,â€ Zimmer said, outlining the first cause.
The second contributing cause, according to Zimmer, is that universities are suppressing free speech in the name of fighting against the exclusion of historically marginalized groups. He makes the case that freedom of expression is necessary for fostering an environment of inclusion.
Zimmer cited â€œthe privileging of feelingsâ€ as a third cause: â€œPrivileging feelings, to the extent that a child feels they are always entitled to feel good and comfortable, and that the world should be organized around this, is not helpful in this regard. And what we are seeing in some cases within high schools and universities is an expectation, and then demands, for such privileging, and then the inappropriate acquiescence to such demands.â€
The University of Chicago president concluded his speech by stating that â€œcreating a sanctuary for comfort is not fulfilling our responsibility. It is only through an environment of intellectual challenge and the free expression and open discourse that provides this challenge, that we are fulfilling our obligations to students, their future, and the future of our society.â€
The University of Chicago has been known for its embrace of freedom of speech. It released a policy report in 2015, known as the â€œChicago Statement,â€ which expressed the schoolâ€™s commitment to the ideal. Since then, at least 35 schools have adopted the same policy, according to the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE).
[T]he Republican criminals in Wisconsin forced through their attack on workers’ rights. … At some point these acts of brazen viciousness are going to lead to a renewed philosophical interest in the question of when acts of political violence are morally justified, an issue that has, oddly, not been widely addressed in political philosophy since Locke. … [T]he attack [sic] on fundamental rights of collective bargaining, assuming they stand, are going to raise hard issues about civil disobedience and other forms of unlawful resistance on which philosophers might make a contribution. [emphasis added]
James Taranto, in the Wall Street Journal, was deservedly derisive about the intimidation value of the philosophical threat.
Having long viewed academia with a jaundiced eye, we’re inclined to view the Leiter post more with amusement than disgust. Just imagine if a Wisconsin businessman got a letter from a philosopher:
Please be informed that I have recently completed an article arguing that acts of political violence are morally justified when businessmen fail to support the dedicated public employees who serve our communities. As soon as the peer-review process is complete, I expect it to be published in the prestigious journal Terrorism & Political Violence.
Really strikes fear into you, doesn’t it? Leiter seems more like a character from Monty Python than “On the Waterfront.”
I humbly tug my academic forelock before Professor Leiter, whose greater brains and greater virtue Iâ€™ll cheerfully concede upfront. Still, the rapidity with which Professor Leiter reaches, however coyly or indirectly or teasingly or hintingly, to justifications, or thinking this suddenly would be a good moment for talking about justifications, for political violence did put me in mind of this news item from the Onion of several years ago.
In Retrospect, I Guess We Might Have Resorted To Cannibalism A Bit Early
I have no idea how long weâ€™d been marooned when we started edging toward Jerry. Twenty, thirty minutes, time has little meaning when youâ€™re in a situation like that. It wasnâ€™t a spoken decision, either. We just all looked at each other and knew something had to be done. …
I feel somewhat the same about Professor Leiterâ€™s call (purely in the philosophical abstract, you understand) to reconsider political violence â€” you know, this might be an appeal just a tad early in the saga of criminal and illegitimate and unjust oppression. I leave it to Professor Leiter to say definitively, but I wonder if Locke might not also agree.
Adam Freedman, at Ricochet, took Brian Leiter a bit more seriously.
[I]t is clear that Leiter thinks that Walker’s move to limit — not eliminate — collective bargaining rights for public employees is literally something that might justify, say, killing a bunch of Republicans. In an update to his blog, here’s how this philosopher-king explains his rationale:
“1. Collective bargaining is, per the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, a human right.
2. There are circumstances in which violations of human rights call for unlawful actions, including violence.”
And that’s it. Because the elected representatives of the People of Wisconsin want to pass a law that may conflict with some charter passed by a bunch of unelected UN windbags (but never enshrined in US law), Leiter wants blood.
On his return from the Very Important Conference on metaethics and legal philosophy which he had been attending, Professor Leiter rapidly retreated from the barricades, placing the bottle with a suspicious-looking rag at its mouth deep in his pocket, endeavored to look innocent, and explained in an update:
[I]t is quite natural for philosophers to ask (this is, after all, a blog aimed at philosophy teachers and students) whether the current circumstances–in which Wisconsin and other states are launching an attack on the human rights of organized workers–are ones in which unlawful resistance, violent or not, to the violation of human rights could be morally justified. Contrary to Professor Althouse’s invention of an answer, which she then attributes to me, I in fact do not know what the answer is to that question.
I do not advocate violence in Wisconsin. … I expect most philosophers are likely to conclude, even if they think Wisconsinâ€™s attack on collecting bargaining rights wrong, that violent civil disobedience would not be justified.
At the end of July in 2008, the New York Times published a very flattering profile of Barack Obama’s Law School lectureship.
The young law professor stood apart in too many ways to count. At a school where economic analysis was all the rage, he taught rights, race and gender. Other faculty members dreamed of tenured positions; he turned them down. While most colleagues published by the pound, he never completed a single work of legal scholarship.
At a formal institution, Barack Obama was a loose presence, joking with students about their romantic prospects, using first names, referring to case law one moment and â€œThe Godfatherâ€ the next. He was also an enigmatic one, often leaving fellow faculty members guessing about his precise views. …
At the school, Mr. Obama taught three courses, ascending to senior lecturer, a title otherwise carried only by a few federal judges. His most traditional course was in the due process and equal protection areas of constitutional law. His voting rights class traced the evolution of election law, from the disenfranchisement of blacks to contemporary debates over districting and campaign finance. Mr. Obama was so interested in the subject that he helped Richard Pildes, a professor at New York University, develop a leading casebook in the field.
His most original course, a historical and political seminar as much as a legal one, was on racism and law. Mr. Obama improvised his own textbook, including classic cases like Brown v. Board of Education, and essays by Frederick Douglass, W. E. B. Dubois, the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and Malcolm X, as well as conservative thinkers like Robert H. Bork.
Mr. Obama was especially eager for his charges to understand the horrors of the past, students say. He assigned a 1919 catalog of lynching victims, including some who were first raped or stripped of their ears and fingers, others who were pregnant or lynched with their children, and some whose charred bodies were sold off, bone fragment by bone fragment, to gawkers. …
For all the weighty material, Mr. Obama had a disarming touch. He did not belittle students; instead he drew them out, restating and polishing halting answers, students recall. In one class on race, he imitated the way clueless white people talked. â€œWhy are your friends at the housing projects shooting each other?â€ he asked in a mock-innocent voice.
A favorite theme, said Salil Mehra, now a law professor at Temple University, were the values and cultural touchstones that Americans share. Mr. Obamaâ€™s case in point: his wife, Michelle, a black woman, loved â€œThe Brady Bunchâ€ so much that she could identify every episode by its opening shots.
As his reputation for frank, exciting discussion spread, enrollment in his classes swelled. Most scores on his teaching evaluations were positive to superlative. Some students started referring to themselves as his groupies.
Doug Ross quotes a colleague who provides an interesting, and very different, gloss.
I spent some time with the highest tenured faculty member at Chicago Law a few months back, and he did not have many nice things to say about “Barry.” Obama applied for a position as an adjunct and wasn’t even considered. A few weeks later the law school got a phone call from the Board of Trustees telling them to find him an office, put him on the payroll, and give him a class to teach. The Board told him he didn’t have to be a member of the faculty, but they needed to give him a temporary position. He was never a professor and was hardly an adjunct.
The other professors hated him because he was lazy, unqualified, never attended any of the faculty meetings, and it was clear that the position was nothing more than a political stepping stool. According to my professor friend, he had the lowest intellectual capacity in the building. He also doubted whether he was legitimately an editor on the Harvard Law Review, because if he was, he would be the first and only editor of an Ivy League law review to never be published while in school (publication is or was a requirement).
Allahpundit catches Obama teetering, one foot over the edge of a fantastic gaffe. Asked what currently-serving Supreme Court Justice he would not have appointed, he names the libertarian, strict constructionist Clarence Thomas, and proceeds to contend that Thomas lacked “EXP,” the first syllable of experience. Then Obama pulls back himself back from cliff edge and changes in mid-phrase to saying that Thomas wasn’t “a strong enough jurist or legal thinker.”
Rich stuff coming from a University of Chicago Affirmative Action Law School lecturer with no record of scholarship or publication, but think of the fun that could have been had by all discussing, as Allahpundit puts it, “what horrible outcomes can arise when people without experience are placed in positions of great power.” Oh heck, let’s discuss it anyway.
Megan McArdle does to the leftwing professoriate at University of Chicago who signed a letter protesting the establishment of a Milton Friedman Institute (God forbid!) at their university what a Jack Russell terrier does to a rat.
I haven’t heard such transparently wishful claptrap since my fifteen-year-old boyfriend tried to convince me that sex provided unparalleled aerobic exercise.
CHICAGOâ€”The editor in chief of a student-led newspaper serving the University of Illinois has been suspended after printing cartoons depicting the prophet Muhammad that, when published in Europe, enraged Muslims and led to violent protests in the Middle East and Asia.
Editor in chief Acton Gorton and his opinion editor, Chuck Prochaska, were relieved of their duties at The Daily Illini on Tuesday while a task force investigates the internal decision-making and communication that led to the publishing of the cartoons, according to a statement by the newspaperâ€™s publisher and general manager, Mary Cory.
Inside Hoover House, a scurrilous joking note about the Prophet Muhammad was taped to a dorm room door. A Muslim resident was outraged. It was the kind of incident that could have sparked serious trouble.
But a deputy dean at the University of Chicago says the culprit defused the situation by writing a note of apology.
â€œWhile his desire to make a statement was not intended to be directed at any one individual, that he had demonstrated insensitivity,â€ said Deputy Dean Cheryl Gutman.
The head of the University of Chicagoâ€™s Muslim Student Association says it was apparently an act of stupidity, not blind hatred.
â€œI think an apology is very important, just to say that he didnâ€™t mean what he was doing, and like I said, it was an act of ignorance,â€ said Mohammed Hasan…
..Since the apology was made, and the Muslim student accepted it, the university chose not to punish or evict the other young man. The University of Chicago considers the incident closed.
Details remain unclear as to whether disciplinary action will be taken against a Hoover House resident who posted a homemade sketch of the Muslim prophet Muhammad on the door of his suite two weeks ago.
Accompanied by the caption â€œMoâ€™ Mohammed, Moâ€™ Problems,â€ the drawing prompted strong reactions from Muslim students on campus and, more recently, attracted the attention of free speech advocates.
Katie Callow-Wright, director of undergraduate student housing, said that although details on the status of the case could not be discussed, the process of addressing such complaints involves a series of discussions and careful review.
â€œWhen a resident reports an incident or concern to their resident staff or the Housing Office, the resident staff gather information by talking with students and, if necessary, other staff to understand all of the facts of the situation,â€ she said. â€œThis is an informal process, and can sometimes entail several individual meetings or conversations.â€
Callow-Wright added that the appropriate Resident Heads (RHs) would hold individual meetings with the student who allegedly violated community standards.
â€œDepending upon the situation, a meeting with a student or students might then take place in the Office of Undergraduate Student Housing,â€ she said.