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A Mellower Letter to U of Chicago Freshmen

August 18, 2017

A year ago, the University of Chicago sent incoming freshmen a letter that denounced the use of trigger warnings and "safe spaces," while noting the virtues of academic freedom. The letter -- from John Ellison, dean of students -- set off a debate at Chicago and elsewhere. Many said that Ellison shouldn't seem to be dictating what professors do in their classrooms, and that academic freedom in fact covered the use of trigger warnings by faculty members who wish to use them. Others said that the letter's tone denouncing trigger warnings and safe spaces belittled efforts to be inclusive. Many others cheered him as a heroic for sending the letter.

Ellison has just sent out another letter to this fall's freshmen. This year's version makes no mention of safe spaces or trigger warnings. It does talk about the university's commitment to academic freedom and to educating people from diverse backgrounds and with diverse views.

"You will find that an unwavering commitment to academic freedom and free expression is one of the university’s defining characteristics," the letter said. "In our time, challenges to academic freedom and free expression are both internal and external, from the world of mass politics and media and sometimes from voices within universities themselves. At the University of Chicago, we insist that all faculty and students are free to debate, disagree and argue, without fear of being silenced, all the while learning from each other and examining and testing their own views, assumptions and commitments. We expect this to happen in the college community, which welcomes people with a diversity of backgrounds and extremely diverse perspectives."

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