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Why I Ended the University of Chicago Protest Encampment

By University of Chicago President Paul Alivisatos:

As president of the University of Chicago, I ended the encampment that occupied the University’s Main Quad for more than a week. The Tuesday morning action resulted in no arrests. Recent months have seen tremendous contention over protests on campuses, including pressure campaigns from every direction. That made this a decision of enormous import for the university.

When the encampment formed on our campus, I said I would uphold the university’s principles and resist the forces tearing at the fabric of higher education. I didn’t direct immediate action against the encampment. I authorized discussions with the protesters regarding an end to the encampment in response to some of their demands. But when I concluded that the essential goals that animated those demands were incompatible with deep principles of the university, I decided to end the encampment with intervention.

Some universities have chosen to block encampments from forming at all or ended them within an hour or so. We had the means to do so. Immediate intervention is consistent with enforcing reasonable regulations on the time, place and manner of speech, and it has the advantage of minimizing disruption. Yet strict adherence to every policy—the suppression of discord to promote harmony—comes at a cost. Discord is almost required for the truth-seeking function of a university to be genuine.

Protest is a strongly protected form of speech in the University of Chicago culture, enshrined in the Chicago Principles for a reason. In times of discord, protest serves as a mechanism for democratic societies, and places of reason like universities, to find a way back toward dialogue and compromise. This has value even if protests result in disruption or violate the rules—up to a point. When a protest substantially interferes with the learning, research and operations of the university, when it meaningfully diminishes the free-expression rights of others—as happened with this encampment—then it must come to an end, through dialogue or intervention.

Read the rest of the article in the Wall Street Journal.