Dear CMC Community:
The Thanksgiving holiday provides a special time for reflection, reconnection, and reinforcing the value of family and community.
Growing up, this was my favorite national holiday. I remember football games, mashed potatoes, and especially the heated debates we had around the table. For my family, argument was a kind of verbal contact sport and could be intensely emotional and disruptive; yet, these difficult conversations sharpened my thinking, made me appreciate different viewpoints, and built a deeper bond of love and belonging in my family.
This is also what I love about our College: robust debate, conflicting perspectives, free speech, critical inquiry — all built into a shared leadership mission that binds and empowers our CMC community.
This is also why the events of the past two weeks have been very difficult for all of us. Many of you have expressed strong support; others are supportive, yet have concerns; and some of you were embarrassed and angry by what you saw or read. Given the various portrayals and overtly political nature of the events, this variation in response is understandable.
Many pictures painted in the press were shot through a quick shutter, narrow aperture, and intentionally filtered lens. A broader perspective, specific information about what we’ve actually been doing, and a sharper, objective framing of the values that guide us may help bring it all into better focus.
Following these events, and in our future commitments, the enduring ideals of the College mean more than ever — to me and, I trust, all of you as well. This is an opportunity to strengthen both our community and our resolve.
First, we must ensure that each of our students shares a deep sense of belonging to the CMC community. Thus, I am committed to developing a thoughtful, productive, and responsible inclusion strategy, where every single student is fully engaged and valued. We have held a series of open, community-wide processes that continue to reinforce, even through disagreements, a respectful, civil, and deliberate discourse. No student or group on our campus should live and learn in isolation. Indeed, both law and explicit College policy forbid social or spatial exclusion based on any specifically defined identities of race, ethnicity, or other protected classification.
Second, we must maintain our unqualified commitment to academic freedom, free speech, and critical inquiry. Any incursion of these principles undermines our mission, and it is my obligation to ensure that we strengthen our mechanisms for the protection of these commitments in practice. We have fully reinforced the principle of free speech (even when we were in sharp disagreement), advised the community on the need for civility, respect, and open inquiry, and reaffirmed in the strongest terms our commitment to academic freedom.
As I have consistently stressed, sustained support for our community and freedom of expression is absolutely imperative. I am committed to ensuring that the most coherent, empirically grounded, and effective proposals both advance and protect these core values of the College.
More specifically, at my direction and with community-wide involvement of students, faculty, and staff, we have achieved the following:
Jeff Huang, our Vice President of Student Affairs and Acting Dean of Students, and his dedicated staff are focused on meeting with students and bringing the community together in both quiet and active settings. Nyree Gray, our Chief Civil Rights Officer, has grown and extended counseling resources to all students over this past week.
Peter Uvin, our Dean of the Faculty, and chair of the Personal and Social Responsibility committee on campus climate (diversity, identity, and free speech), launched two years ago, has expanded that committee with a large number of students of diverse perspectives. He and other senior staff have worked together with student leaders to convene a series of broad-based campus discussions, including an important forum last Friday with over 100 members of the community and another one the prior Friday (Nov. 13) with over 200 participants in the Athenaeum. Dean Uvin brought in a leading national expert to work directly with student groups to develop ideas on the development of new institutional resources. These steps have led to extremely constructive dialogue and will continue to inform any specific measures we take going forward.
With the assistance of an external expert, we are advancing the basic components of an effective inclusion strategy for the entire cycle of the CMC student experience: from admissions and financial aid, to student services, academic support, and career services. We will integrate lessons learned over the past two years, more recently, and through additional review, to make sure that our students have the resources, facilities, and staff they need to take full advantage of our outstanding programs. The strategy will accordingly help guide programmatic improvements for all students.
Dean Uvin has urged the community to avoid ad hominem attacks, vitriol, or other disrespectful statements. He has also forcefully reaffirmed the College’s commitment to free speech and academic freedom. Dean Uvin's statement also reinforces the CMC faculty resolution last year in strong and unanimous support of the University of Chicago principles on free expression. Finally, he is leading a series of faculty discussions and roundtables in December that will lead to the further reinforcement of College values, policy, and practice.
Finally, I have been actively engaging with trustees, alumni, and parents to give a more accurate picture of what is happening on our campus. During the next few months, I will meet with alumni and parents in major cities across the country to answer questions and provide updates on our progress.
So as we enjoy the holiday break, let’s draw on and reinforce the resilience of our shared CMC history, community bond, and singular mission. Let’s take on the pressing challenges of our time. Let’s take the most thoughtful, productive, and responsible action to lead by example.
Happy Thanksgiving, and