Update: President Zimmer's office notified College Council (CC) that he could no longer make the May 10 meeting. According to CC chair Peggy Xu, three administrators will appear tentatively in his stead: Dean of Students in the University Michele Rasmussen, Dean of Students in the College John "Jay" Ellison, and Assistant Vice President for Student Life Michael Hayes.
College Council (CC) has scheduled a meeting with President Robert J. Zimmer on May 10, pending formal confirmation from Zimmer’s office, according to the chair of CC.
CC representatives asked for the meeting to discuss free speech policies on campus with Zimmer.
“The currently proposed format is a closed-door discussion—kind of like a seminar—between College Council and President Zimmer,” CC Chair Peggy Xu said.
According to Xu, the invite for the meeting was sent out in early March. She and fellow CC representative Chase Harrison then met with Dean of Students Michele Rasmussen in early April, following which Rasmussen proposed May 10 as the tentative date for the meeting with Zimmer.
“There is interest in having a free expression discussion at some point but that is likely to be at a later date,” a University spokesperson said.
The meeting is meant to provide a space and opportunity for CC representatives to directly ask Zimmer about his public stance on free speech activities at the University, according to Xu.
This is the latest development in CC’s attempt to initiate a dialogue with Zimmer on the issue of campus groups hosting controversial speakers. In an open letter to The Maroon dated early March, CC representatives stated that the motive behind their push for such a dialogue stems from Zimmer’s professed belief in unbridled free speech. The fact that Zimmer was willing to extend his support for free speech to figures like Richard Spencer, a University alum and white nationalist, caused concerns among CC representatives.
“Spencer may only be moderately famous, but his ideas are still dangerous—and not dangerous in the sense that they may cause students intellectual discomfort,” CC’s open letter stated. “Rather, his ideas are dangerous because they call into question many students’ worth as human beings, normalize disproven ideas that have led to horrific ethnic cleansing, and could provoke legitimate security threats."
The letter also mentioned the Committee on Freedom of Expression, which according to the letter, helps Zimmer craft on-campus free speech policies, and raised questions about the committee’s apparent lack of student involvement. As such, CC representatives wished to clarify with Zimmer the exact scope and nature of free speech policies at the University.
As the meeting is not yet formally confirmed, CC representatives have yet to agree on a set of questions to ask Zimmer. Xu emphasized in writing that CC representatives all have diverse opinions on the issue and that the exact approach to this meeting will be clearer once representatives produce a collaborative list of questions.
“In general, the student body has a right to expect more openness from President Zimmer,” Student Government President Eric Holmberg said in an e-mail to The Maroon. “I expect that this meeting will just be a first step toward more interaction[s] between him and students.”