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September 17, 2010

Campus Controversies

As a U of C student, it is likely that you have strong feelings about issues, and that you’ll be interested in voicing those feelings in some kind of public gathering, or Q&A with a famous speaker, or Facebook group. Over the years there have been a lot of controversies generated by students like you, ranging from divesting the University from Darfur (students lost, the investments remained), kicking Coca-Cola off campus and keeping Coca-Cola on campus (it’s still here, so tie?), getting a pass for free trips on the CTA (too expensive, the students lost), and even against a Maroon writer whose opinion piece was deemed incendiary (students won! The Maroon retracted the article).

Two incidents really drove campus crazy last year, and both took place on 57th Street. The Harris School of Public Policy invited former Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert to give a speech at Mandel Hall last October, a move that did not sit well with the University’s Palestine advocates (and some activists from off-campus, too). Many protested outside the event, and others registered to attend. Once inside, they yelled so loudly and continuously that it took almost an hour and a half for Olmert to complete a planned 20-minute speech.

The protesters were upset that Olmert was invited because they considered him a war criminal for his actions against Palestine as prime minister. But the University was far more upset at the way its guest was treated. President Robert Zimmer and Provost Thomas Rosenbaum sent a letter reminding the community that it should be committed to academic freedom and welcome other viewpoints, however provocative—a pretty remarkable reprimand in these parts. It didn’t help the traditionally frosty relationship between two RSOs, the Chicago Friends of Israel and Muslim Students Association, either.

Then, on a Wednesday night in winter quarter, a black student was arrested in the Regenstein Library by a University police officer (UCPD) for what amounted to laughing too loudly and ignoring the officer’s demand to show ID or leave the premises. The fact that the student was forced to the ground, handcuffed, and then spent the night in jail angered many members of the community. Scores of them flocked to a heated open forum with administrators to vent their frustrations over the fact that such rough treatment of black men by the UCPD is not uncommon. These concerns voiced during the forum about the UCPD’s improper conduct led to the creation of a 14-person committee in charge of overseeing policy changes to prevent any recurrence. UCPD chief Marlon Lynch told the forum, “It takes time to change a culture,” and to that end, the students, administrators, and faculty that make up the committee will be meeting for the next year. One thing that became clear following the arrest—you must show your UCID to anyone who asks.

There were a few less serious imbroglios at the U of C last year: President Zimmer began dating a classics professor after separating from his wife and moving out of the President’s House on 59th and University. The President made an arrangement with the University Provost, who, along with faculty, is in charge of preventing any conflicts of interest, and the Board of Trustees signed off on the relationship when they saw nothing wrong with it. An online poll where students could vote for the acts they wanted to play at Summer Breeze was hacked, so students lost their most direct say in who performs at the annual concert. It turned out okay in the end, as Nas, Damian Marley, and the Dirty Projectors were generally agreed to have rocked Hutch Courtyard.

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