At the University of Chicago, students welcome the rigors of intellectual debate. They thrive on the depth of insight and diversity of perspective it opens up. They join a campus dedicated to open-ended inquiry and the cultivation of new ideas, whose culture of academic freedom has become one of its most recognized qualities. The transformative and prestigious education that students receive at UChicago—and the distinct, enriching experiences that complement their work in the classroom—have deep roots.
More than 125 years ago, the University’s founders articulated a commitment to academic excellence that would apply to all students and faculty and be accessible for people of all backgrounds.
Founding president William Rainey Harper recruited faculty of the highest caliber from around the globe, including several college presidents, who were drawn to the University of Chicago as a community of scholarly excellence.
In an address marking the University’s decennial in 1902, Harper reminded his audience of a crucial tradition: “Complete freedom of speech on all subjects,” he declared, “has from the beginning been regarded as fundamental in the University of Chicago.” Harper also viewed the UChicago community as an engine for doing good in the world, both through its pursuit of scientific innovation and its commitment to liberal education.
A generation later, University president Robert Maynard Hutchins gave voice to an equally fundamental principle in his 1936 works on The Higher Learning in America and No Friendly Voice. Hutchins insisted that universities existed to pursue truth for its own sake, and they should sponsor a curriculum that would encourage the skills of the intellectual seeker, motivated by active forms of educational connoisseurship in the study of foundational texts and documents. Hutchins also argued that “the purpose of education is not to fill the minds of students with facts; it is not to reform them, or amuse them, or make them expert technicians in any field. It is to teach them to think, if that is possible, and to think always for themselves. Democratic government rests on the notion that the citizens will think for themselves. It is of the highest importance that there should be some places where they can learn how to do it.”
Today, the principles espoused by Harper and Hutchins are embedded in the work of the University at all levels. The Core curriculum of general education introduces students to the habits of scholarly inquiry and to methods and questions in the study of original texts encompassing a number of broad traditions of learning. In subsequent years, they apply these analytic foundations to the discipline or disciplines of their choice, ensuring that they can bring a variety of perspectives—from the humanities and social sciences to the natural sciences—to bear on any kind of question or area of research.