UofC Resists, students, activists, and members of the Hyde Park community discussed the implications of the Picker Report in a meeting held Friday. The Picker Report is a faculty committee–written report comprised of revisions to the All-University Disciplinary System, including a new disciplinary system for disruptive conduct.
The faculty senate will vote on this disciplinary system on May 23, and the University has stated that if the vote fails, it will instead implement the University’s 1974 disruptive conduct disciplinary procedures.
Several attendees expressed concern with the timing of the vote. “We believe there is no emergency or incident of disruptive conduct that has happened during this academic year that is actually a cause for the type of urgent discussion that the report suggests,” Ph.D. student Alejandra Azuero said. “On the contrary, we believe the fact that there has been so much pushback is a good enough reason to actually slow down things.”
Others stated that the instances of disruptive conduct to which the Picker Report responds, such as the protest during State’s Attorney Anita Alvarez’s speech at the Institute of Politics (IOP), were being blown out of proportion.
“[OBS] was there in solidarity with [the disruptors at the IOP], but we were giving community members an opportunity to voice the concerns that they have that are so real,” second-year Qudsiyyah Shariyf said. “But secondly, Anita ran. She could have had a conversation with the people who were there to talk to her, and she ran. And I think that the fact that this administration is trying to protect people like Richard Spencer and Anita Alvarez says so much about who they really care about.”
A common concern was the report’s lack of definition for free speech and disruptive conduct.
“These new disciplinary measures are meant to enforce this campus as a certain sort of ‘free speech commons,’” philosophy professor Anton Ford said. “What that is, we don’t know. For all the changes that have been made to the Picker Report, its starting principle is that this is a ‘free speech commons’—this is a made-up term. Every Google reference that I have found to it, at least in a casual search, leads back to this place.”
Ford went on to say that these ideas of free speech and disruption have “never, ever been subjected to public scrutiny.”
“So what the council is being asked to vote on is the enforcement of principles we have yet to affirm,” Ford said. “We have no business coming up with disciplinary measures for enforcing principles that we do not yet affirm as a community.”
English professor Zachary Samalin echoed Ford’s sentiments, stating that the report “seeks especially to absolve faculty from having to think about [the definition of free speech and disruption] because it’s [the faculty’s] consent that’s being demanded with an urgency nobody can explain.”
“The report is specifically designed to disburden the faculty and students of this university from the responsibility of having to think and disagree about what counts as speech and what counts as conduct and why only some speech is being disqualified from counting as disruption,” Samalin said. “We are being absolved of having to think about how the administration’s rhetoric of free speech comes into conflict with the facts of inequality and discrimination on our campus or in the city of Chicago or beyond.”
Others believe that the new disciplinary procedures exist only to protect outside speakers, not students, faculty, or staff.
“What are the incidents that outrage [Zimmer]?” Ford said. “They’re incidents in which Laura Bush, Henry Kissinger, Larry Summers, and Richard Spencer have their speech interrupted. Never do they go out of their way to protect the right of the students to speak or a professor to speak. In fact, if you listen to [Geoffrey] Stone’s Aims of Education address, he identifies what he calls the ‘single greatest threat to academic freedom on campuses today,’ and you know what that is? Students.”