The University of Chicago has built a brand around the idea that its students should be unafraid to encounter ideas or opinions they disagree with.

To drum that in, the school provides incoming students with copies of its 2015 free-speech declaration, known as the Chicago statement, which states that freedom of expression is an “essential element” of its culture.

And the university has long adhered to a policy of institutional neutrality, which strongly discourages it from divesting from companies for political reasons, or from making statements aligning it with a social cause. That neutrality, the university argues, allows for a robust, unencumbered exchange of ideas.

Many professors swell with pride talking about how the school’s commitment to these principles has endured through two world wars, Vietnam and, more recently, the tumult of the Trump administration. And more than 100 institutions have adopted or endorsed similar principles.

But the University of Chicago’s image as the citadel of free speech is being tested again — this time over an encampment on the central quad, which protesters of Israel’s war in Gaza have refused to leave for more than a week.

The university has allowed dozens of tents to stay up, even though they violate a policy against erecting structures in public spaces. The school had wanted to show “the greatest leeway possible for free expression,” said Paul Alivisatos, the university president.


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