The details behind the controversy are described here. I'll return to my own view at the end, but first, my colleague Anton Ford asked me to share this letter from Samantha Eyler, who works (in a non-academic but editorial position) at both the Stigler Center here and ProMarket, a publication of the Stigler Center. Ms. Eyler writes:
As Senior Editor at the Stigler Center and its publication ProMarket, and one of six members of the ProMarket editorial board, I have opposed since its inception the proposal by my colleague Luigi Zingales to provide a platform to Steve Bannon at the Stigler Center, as well as the use of ProMarket to promote the provision of that platform, on grounds that it normalizes white nationalism and implicates us in the concrete violence wrought on American lives every day by that ideology.
When my objections were overruled, I requested on grounds of ethics to recuse myself from any involvement with the Bannon event. Although Zingales accepted my recusal on its face, within hours he began to instruct me to promote his event-related statements on ProMarket and to provide him with research in advance of the Bannon event. I immediately sought advice from Chicago Booth Human Resources to determine the level of protection the University provides to its staff in such cases, and was informed that, while Bannon and Zingales themselves are protected under the University’s stated principles of freedom of expression, University of Chicago staff are not, and perceived insubordination could be grounds for termination of my employment.
With this information established, it is clear that I can no longer continue to sit on the ProMarket editorial board alongside tenured faculty whose speech is more protected than my own. This fact transparently makes it impossible to debate on equal terms with my board colleagues such urgent matters as our responsibilities as editors in facing the growing threat of white nationalism in America.
For this reason I hereby resign from my post on the ProMarket editorial board and as acting editor-in-chief responsible for content development at ProMarket. I will carry on as the Stigler Center’s senior editor, reporting to Zingales, and as executive editor of ProMarket, reporting to the remaining members of the editorial board. But I am no longer able to undertake content development functions for which lateral equality between editorial board members is a necessary precondition.
I invite the ProMarket board to use this occasion as an opportunity to clarify in a more formal way whether ProMarket is editorially independent of the Stigler Center. And I invite all members of the University of Chicago community to critically assess the merits of a free speech absolutism that has justified the provision of a platform to a famed white nationalist while failing to protect UChicago’s own staff seeking to exercise our right to protest the fact that such a platform has been provided. My situation is only the latest example of the ubiquitous reality in this country whereby the de jure notion of an absolute right to freedom of expression conceals a de facto reality in which the right to free expression of the powerful is enforced at the expense of that of their subordinates.
The last sentence is naive and false, but put that to one side. I agree that in her role as an editor she ought to be able to freely disagree with her co-editors; on the other hand, it sounds like Prof. Zingales views her more as employee, with editorial responsibilities. I do not know what is really the case. What I do know is that none of us, including the faculty, enjoy free speech rights that would interfere with discharge of our core professional responsibilities; nor do any of us, including faculty, enjoy rights of conscientious objection to our core professional responsibilities. The only question here is what Ms. Eyler's are, and that I do not know.
There's no doubt that the awful Breitbart and Bannon have fanned the flames of white supremacy; that by itself would not preclude him from speaking on campus, though if all he were was a white supremacist (think David Duke), then it would be hard to understand why he would be invited. In fact, of course, Bannon has been an influential figure in the depraved politics of our current moment in America, advising the alleged President and shaping Republican politics nationwide, and I think it would be very interesting to hear from him, at least in a context where he will be subjected to serious questioning (will he get that from Prof Zingales and his colleagues? I do not know). After all, Bannon fancies himself a person with ideas, and yet is obviously--as becomes apparent when you scrutinize his ideas--a sophomoric idiot and parochial bigot. Subjecting his sophomoric idiocy to scrutiny in an academic context might prove revelatory, perhaps even for Mr. Bannon.
From an academic freedom point of view, it is clearly well within the rights of Prof. Zingales and the Stigler Center to host Bannon. It is well within the rights of other faculty, students and, yes, staff of the academic community to criticize Prof. Zingales for having invited him and to protest Bannon. What is not permissible is for someone not to do their job because they object to Bannon having been invited by Prof. Zingales. In that regard, Ms. Eyler has quite reasonably resigned from her position at ProMarket, where she was unwilling to participate in promoting this event. I am told she may yet be fired from the Stigler Center as well; whether that is justified depends on unknown facts about her job and its professional obligations, but to return to a point made earlier: no one's free speech or academic freedom rights exempts them from their professional duties, and that includes the faculty. I hope the Stigler Center will find a constructive resolution to this matter that does not involve firing Ms. Eyler.
UPDATE: The issues regarding Ms. Eyler have been sensibly resolved.