The dean of students at the University of Chicago, John Ellison, has laid out his university's commitment to free expression and deliberate debate in his yearly letter to the incoming freshman—sorry, "first year"—class. Ellison wrote, "Our commitment to academic freedom means that we do not support so-called trigger warnings, we do not cancel invited speakers because their topics might prove controversial and we do not condone the creation of intellectual safe spaces where individuals can retreat from ideas and perspectives at odds with their own." The letter drew praise from free speech advocates and safe space skeptics after a student paper shared it on social media.

UChicago, a school well-known for intellectual rigor and roots in classical liberalism, previously earned a "green light" rating from the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE). FIRE's assessment cites the Student Manual's speech code, which reads: "The ideas of different members of the University community will frequently conflict, and we do not attempt to shield people from ideas that they may find unwelcome, disagreeable, or even offensive." While the preexisting code implicitly condemned suggestive censorship via controversial tactics like offering "trigger warnings" and designating "safe spaces," Ellison's letter boldly declares administrative support for free expression.

Some critics contend, meanwhile, that it is a professor's right to issue "trigger warnings," and others that it is even a university's duty to shield its students from discomfort. Indeed one Facebook commenter claimed a UChicago prof took the liberty to warn his classes about "triggers" in assigned texts. Does the administration's stance—don't expect coddling—constitute a promise to hold its community members to a rare standard, requiring its professors to reject "trigger warnings"?

No doubt navigating the nuances of free expression will continue to inspire, and require, open debate. Ellison's letter directs students to a webpage for the university's Committee on Free Expression, with announcements, events and offerings listed as "forthcoming." Stay tuned.