A Constitutional Perspective on Institutional Neutrality

Revisiting The Kalven Report: The University’s Role In Social And Political Action (Keith E. Whittington and John Tomasi, eds. Johns Hopkins Press, Forthcoming).

U of Chicago, Public Law Working Paper No. 845

20 Pages Posted: 28 Sep 2023 Last revised: 12 Feb 2024

See all articles by Tom Ginsburg

Tom Ginsburg

University of Chicago Law School

Date Written: September 20, 2023

Abstract

The Kalven Report demands that the university generally remain neutral on social and political issues, a stance which has sometimes been controversial even at its birthplace. The fact that the report was adopted at the University of Chicago during the Vietnam War has led to a perception that its purpose was defensive, trying to insulate university leaders from tough choices.

This chapter provides a broader perspective, tracing the deep history of the principles of institutional neutrality at the University of Chicago back to 1899. It is a part of the constitutional structure of the school, and has allowed its leaders to defend academic freedom at several critical junctures.

More broadly, a constitutional perspective on institutional neutrality generates fruitful insights. Constitutions function by taking some things off the table, channeling political energy into productive debates about solvable problems. They protect the individual dissident from orthodoxy, and facilitate a conversation about core values. Institutional neutrality at a university encourages individual faculty members to speak through their scholarly work, rather than dissipate time through lobbying for institutional statements. It encourages members of the university community to inquire into controversies, rather than accept a single corporate position as authoritative. Without a degree of neutrality, a university "ceases to be a university," in the words of Robert Maynard Hutchins.

Keywords: academic freedom, neutrality, constitutions

JEL Classification: K1

Suggested Citation

Ginsburg, Tom, A Constitutional Perspective on Institutional Neutrality (September 20, 2023). Revisiting The Kalven Report: The University’s Role In Social And Political Action (Keith E. Whittington and John Tomasi, eds. Johns Hopkins Press, Forthcoming)., U of Chicago, Public Law Working Paper No. 845, Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=4577076

Tom Ginsburg (Contact Author)

University of Chicago Law School ( email )

1111 E. 60th St.
Chicago, IL 60637
United States

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