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Protesters rally against Bannon U of C invite; school defends ‘academic freedom’

Dozens of people gathered outside the Booth School of Business last week to protest an invitation extended to former White House adviser Steve Bannon. | Mitch Dudek/Sun-Times

About 75 protesters, many of them students, gathered Thursday morning at the University of Chicago to urge school administrators to rescind an invitation to Steve Bannon, the former White House adviser, to speak at the school.

“When the administration says that Steve Bannon is welcome at this campus, what they’re saying is that people of color are not, they’re saying that queer people are not, they’re saying that everyone who Breitbart News and who the Trump administration has been attacking is not welcome here,” Sam Joyce, who organized the event and co-chairs a student chapter of the Young Democratic Socialists of America, told the crowd.

The protesters marched in a circle outside the University’s Booth School of Business near 58th and Woodlawn in the Hyde Park neighborhood.

Bannon left the administration last year. Then, amid fallout from his comments in the new book “Fire and Fury” about the Trump White House, he also departed Breitbart News, the pro-Trump website he had helped run.

Chants at the protest included: “Disinvite! Disinvite! Disinvite!” and “No hate. No fear. Nazi thugs aren’t welcome here!”

Sam Joyce spoke to the crowd at Thursday’s protest. | Mitch Dudek/Sun-Times

Booth Professor Luigi Zingales extended the Bannon invite, which was accepted, according to a Wednesday report in the school’s newspaper, The Chicago Maroon.

Zingales issued the following statement Thursday following the protest on why he invited Bannon to debate the issues of immigration and globalization:

“As a university our primary mission is to form new citizens of the world. As a business school our primary mission is to form new business leaders of the world. I can hardly think of a more important issue for new citizens and business leaders of the world than the backlash against globalization and immigration that is taking place not just in America, but in all the Western World. At the University of Chicago, we have some of the best economic minds of the planet. It is our civic duty to engage them in finding the causes of this backlash and in trying to address them. Whether you agree with him or not (and I personally do not), Mr. Bannon has come to interpret and represent this backlash in America. For this reason, I invited Mr. Bannon to a debate on these issues with our faculty. I firmly believe that the current problems in America cannot be solved by demonizing who think differently, but by addressing the causes of their dissatisfaction. Hate cannot be defeated by hate, but only by reason.”

No date has not been set for Bannon’s appearance.

The university on Thursday also issued a statement:

Steve Bannon | AP file photo

“Professor Luigi Zingales of the Booth School of Business is planning an event with the tentative format of a debate on subjects including the economic benefits of globalization and immigration, and has invited Steve Bannon, former chief strategist and senior adviser in the Trump administration, to debate an expert in the field, with Zingales serving as moderator. More details will be available soon from the Booth School of Business.

“The University of Chicago is deeply committed to upholding the values of academic freedom, the free expression of ideas, and the ability of faculty and students to invite the speakers of their choice.”

“Any recognized student group, faculty group, University department or individual faculty member can invite a speaker to campus. We recognize that there will be debate and disagreement over this event; as part of our commitment to free expression, the University supports the ability of protesters and invited speakers to express a wide range of views.”

Bannon is not the first invited speaker from Trump’s orbit to draw fire at the university.

Former Trump campaign manager Corey Lewandowski spoke on campus in 2016. And Trump’s former spokesman Sean Spicer spoke on campus last year.

Both men sparked protests.

Students at the University of Chicago protest Corey Lewandowski. | Francesca Gattuso/Sun-Times