Northwestern Events Calendar


Political Theory Colloquium | Tom Ginsburg (University of Chicago Law School): A Constitutional Perspective on Institutional Neutrality

When: Thursday, February 15, 2024
12:30 PM - 2:00 PM CT

Where: Scott Hall, room 201, Ripton, 601 University Place, Evanston, IL 60208 map it

Audience: Faculty/Staff - Student - Post Docs/Docs - Graduate Students

Contact: Ariel Sowers   (847) 491-7454

Group: Department of Political Science

Co-Sponsor: Alice Kaplan Institute for the Humanities

Category: Academic


Please join the Political Theory Colloquium as they host Tom Ginsburg, Leo Spitz Distinguished Service Professor of International Law, Ludwig and Hilde Wolf Research Scholar, Professor of Political Science, Faculty Director, Malyi Center for the Study of Institutional and Legal Integrity, Faculty Director, Forum for Free Inquiry and Expressiones at the University of Chicago Law School.

A Constitutional Perspective on Institutional Neutrality

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.

Tom Ginsburg focuses on comparative and international law from an interdisciplinary perspective. He holds BA, JD, and PhD degrees from the University of California at Berkeley. His latest book is Democracies and International Law (2021), winner of two best book prizes, and his prior books include How to Save a Constitutional Democracy (2018), written with Aziz Z. Huq, which won the best book award from the International Society of Constitutional Law; Judicial Review in New Democracies (2003), which won the C. Herman Pritchett Award from the American Political Science Association; The Endurance of National Constitutions (with Zachary Elkins and James Melton, 2009), which also won a best book prize from APSA; and Judicial Reputation (with Nuno Garoupa, 2015). He currently co-directs the Comparative Constitutions Project, an effort funded by the National Science Foundation to gather and analyze the constitutions of all independent nation-states since 1789. Before entering law teaching, he served as a legal adviser at the Iran-US Claims Tribunal and The Hague (Netherlands), and continues to work with numerous international development agencies and foreign governments on legal and constitutional reform. He is a member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and co-host of the Entitled podcast on human rights.

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