In February, the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) named DePaul University as one of the worst 10 universities for the protection of free speech. It was not the first time that DePaul has been on FIRE’s radar. Most recently DePaul University was in the news for actions which have blocked conservative speakers and limited the ability of the College Republicans and the conservative student group Young Americans for Freedom (YAF) to get their message out to the DePaul campus.
No Milo, No Shapiro
Over the summer DePaul denied permission for the conservative students to host a talk by Milo Yiannopoulos, the controversial Breitbart editor whose talk the previous spring at DePaul had been closed down by protesters. Permission to invite Ben Shapiro to give a talk in the fall was also denied, in this case, because of fears of disruptive protests.
At the start of the school year, the school administration required the DePaul Socialists to spend about $360 for security personnel because it featured a talk about Marxism. According to the administrators, the topic was controversial. A request to put up a poster advertising the College Republicans featuring the slogan Unborn Lives Matter was denied permission by the university which claimed it was an attack on the Black Lives Matter movement. In November at a talk by Christina Sommers, the conservative students arranged for Shapiro to attempt to join Sommers at the event. When he was blocked by campus police from joining the event, there was a prearranged walk out and reassembly at a nearby off- campus venue where Shapiro could be heard.
Fear of Chalkings
The latest round of conflicts started in April 2016, when conservative DePaul students chalked pro-Trump slogans around campus, including “Build the Wall,” “Blue Lives Matter,” “Stand with Israel,” “Abortion is Murder” and “Trump 16.” The following morning the chalkings had all been cleaned off, and the administration banned further chalkings on the grounds that they could threaten DePaul’s status as a tax-exempt 501 (3C) institution. In response, the conservative students arranged an on-campus talk by the Breitbart writer Milo Yiannopoulos that was ended by rowdy protesters who wrested away his microphone and refused to let the event continue.
Administrators had forced the conservative students to pay a considerable fee for security. As the event unfolded, not only did the DePaul security not intervene to halt the disruption, but the university administration instructed police not to interfere. So conservative students had been forced to pay a lot of money for a security force that in essence participated in the cancellation of the event.
The protesting students used the social media response as the central point of their protest over the president’s handling of the issue. First, as reported by the school newspaper, he was widely criticized at a meeting with angry students. Later, at a meeting with faculty, he was viciously assailed by a group of activist professors, many of whom called for him to resign. Somehow, in the space of a few days, the student disrupters had gone from aggressors to victims and the conservative students had gone from victims to victimizers.
These events have not occurred in a vacuum. I recently retired from DePaul after 27 years, and I can say without hesitation that DePaul has a nasty habit of suppressing views which are considered “too conservative.” The university president disingenuously says that DePaul only forbids speech that is intended to wound.
There is an activist core of faculty and administrators who believe that the purpose of education is to instill a set of liberal talking points in its students. This is done through its hiring practices, both academic and administrative, its curriculum development, its regulation of student groups, and when pushed, through the outright suppression of contrary views.
The university president is quoted above in the school newspaper saying “As we experienced last spring, it’s not difficult to agree that there is a difference between a thoughtful discussion about immigration and a profane remark about Mexicans scrawled in the quad, or between a panel on racial climate and a noose — a powerful symbol of violence and hatred — outside a residence hall. In both recent cases, the first, we encourage; the second, we abhor.” With all due respect, this quote is a perfect example of a straw man argument. No group was asking permission to chalk up the sidewalk with bigoted slogans or place nooses in residence halls. What has been banned is Ben Shapiro who expresses conservative positions and a poster that borrowed its phrasing from the slogan “Black Lives Matter” to express opposition to abortion.
The recent events didn’t happen in a vacuum. DePaul has a long history of using its resources to promote one-sided positions on gun control, the Iraq War, American foreign policy, the Arab/Israeli conflict, gay rights, immigration, crime and police accountability. At times it has shown hostility towards students and faculty who run afoul of the prevailing campus orthodoxies. What has made DePaul stand out is there is no pretense of objectivity. There is an influential body of faculty and administrators who believe the core mission of the university is to promote what could be summed up as “The Progressive Agenda.” While they claim to be promoting dialogue on issues such as race and gender, the easy use of terms such as racist, homophobic, transphobic, Islamophobic, sexist, and ableist guarantee that there will never be an honest discussion of such issues.
DePaul’s free speech controversies over the years cannot be extracted from the political climate that has been promulgated as part of its mission.
An Urban Mission
I started teaching at DePaul in 1987, and though initially I heard comments about an urban mission, the school seemed basically normal. This began to change in 1990 with the acceptance of a several million dollar Lilly Foundation grant to develop programs in multiculturalism. In the fall of 1990, a series of workshops were held, mostly around themes of identity.
In June 1994, then President of DePaul Jack Minogue authorized the creation of a large task force (The Multiculturalism Committee or MIC) made up of faculty, administrators, and students, to make recommendations on how DePaul could start to infuse multiculturalism into all of its activities. On February 7, 1995, Minogue sent out a memo to the entire university community with the report of the MIC and a statement pledging the university to work to implement its recommendations.
The recommendations began with a discussion of how to define multiculturalism including the reports working definition:
Multiculturalism is an approach and praxis that seeks to eliminate prejudice and bias of any type, conscious or unconscious, individual or institutional, which serves as a barrier to the survival and self-determination of individuals and communities. For example, a multicultural approach to scholarship and teaching is one which gives priority to the inclusion of those communities and cultures which have been historically disenfranchised, oppressed or excluded; seeks to equalize unequal power relations between groups, and strives to lessen the disparity between the privileged and those less privileged. Reaffirming their humanity and cultures as creators of knowledge and makers of history, these communities then redefine power relations and as such forge the transformation of knowing and place.
The report describe the committee’s task as “not to impose a new orthodoxy, but to uproot the traditions of prejudice, exclusion, bias, racism, classism, ageism and homophobia, embedded in the academy as a whole and within our respective fields, in part by advancing an agenda that is by definition constant and critical.”
An extensive set of recommendations followed that segmented into General recommendations, faculty subcommittee recommendations, student subcommittee recommendations, and staff subcommittee recommendations. The various subcommittee recommendations were further segmented into very specific timelines for implementations. There were, for example, a total of 35 recommendations from the student subcommittee, 25 for the first year alone.
Among the first year recommendation for faculty was the proposal to enhance opportunities for faculty needing protection (i.e., women, racial ethnic and religious groups; non-heterosexuals and the physically disabled) to participate on committees with authority to affect change in the institution or to advance to positions of leadership on specific committees; and include for participation those perceived as aggressive and/or radical.
The student recommendations for the first year included the demand that the student newspaper be used as a forum for making the DePaul community aware of issues facing students regarding multiculturalism, increase student aid and scholarship money for minority students, and add a question on the instructor/class evaluation form to inquire regarding the sensitivity of the instructor and the extent to which the course attempts to address multiculturalism. Among the 25 recommendations, the most Orwellian were to “offer financial incentives to the diverse populations through a mandatory, universal, ongoing and continuous program of training workshops and retreats which are sensitive to the different levels of awareness of university employees (faculty, staff, and students) and provide an opportunity for growth and development.
In his memo, essentially accepting the recommendations, President Minogue said, “The university is deeply indebted to the members and leadership of the Implementation Committee for their fine and timely work on bringing previous initiatives and work on multiculturalism and diversity within the DePaul community, as well as recommending new initiatives.” The faculty as a whole either approved of the recommendations or basically ignored them. A charitable assessment is that they were simply a way forward to make the university a more tolerant and inclusive place. A more cynical and probably mere realistic view is that the report was a recipe for dividing up the benefits that could be extorted from the university and distributed among a collection of “underrepresented” subgroups claiming various degrees of victim status.
To be fair, not everyone liked the recommendations. A guest column by two students in the student newspaper in March 1996 asked, “Is it just us or have others noticed DePaul’s secret agenda to divide us, masked as multiculturalism?” Their complaint was summed up by the statement “Multiculturalism is what an ideal world would be; tolerant of all people. DePaul’s version is exactly the opposite. It divides students into separate groups and magnifies their differences.”
The MIC report is a blueprint for how the culture of political correctness would come to dominate the handling of conflicts that involved questions about free speech. Almost all the PC insanity that has exploded on college campuses in the past couple of years-safe spaces, micro-aggressions, speech codes, diversity bureaucrats, freshman orientation indoctrination, diversity training- can be found in embryonic form in this document. Almost immediately, clashes with students over free speech started occurring.
In the spring of 1995, the school newspaper the DePaulia reported on an arrest at a dance sponsored by Housecall, a DePaul student organization sponsored by Multicultural Student Affairs that published a quarterly magazine centered on African American issues. According to the police, the dance had been advertised on at least 16 area campuses as a “booty call.” The trouble started when two groups got into a conflict. Police were called, and two people were arrested. The DePaulia story quoted the police report that said when police arrived they “learned there were several fights and the crowd refused to leave.” Once again relying on the police report, the DePaulia article stated “after the reporting officers began to disperse the crowd, another fight ensued, and officers ‘observed several M/Bs [male blacks] throwing chairs and trash into the crowd.’”
In reaction to the story in the DePaulia, the Association of Black Students (ABS) demanded an apology from the student newspaper. The next edition of the paper covered the black students’ version of the event and published an editorial in which the newspaper stated, “We empathize with the people who were offended or felt that the article damaged the reputation of Housecall, as this was not our intent.” This response by the DePaulia did not satisfy some students who took it upon themselves to destroy the entire press run of the newspaper.
Punishing the School Newspaper
A letter that appeared in the paper the following week reported that the President of the university, Jack Minogue, stood and watched them do it and did nothing to stop them. The ABS then staged a sit-in in the DePaulia office. In a reversal of reality, the administration temporarily suspended publication of the newspaper, blamed the event on the staff of the DePaulia, punished the paper by forcing the staff to abandon their office in Lincoln Park and make do with facilities at the inconveniently located downtown campus, accept a faculty advisor for the following year, submit to diversity training and agree to publish an issue entirely devoted to diversity. The ABS students were given amnesty for their actions, letters were sent to faculty asking them to forgive any missed work by the sit-in participants and an administrative position was created for a director of diversity with a salary of around $70,000 per year.
In the aftermath of these events, there were numerous columns and editorials in the local newspapers criticizing DePaul for refusing to stand up for the freedom of the press. At DePaul, such criticism was muted, and for many who are still around, it is pointed to as a great step forward in the school’s mission of promoting inclusivity and social justice.
Over the next few years, a new liberal studies program included a menu of freshman seminars, a sophomore course in multiculturalism, a junior year experiential learning requirement and a senior year capstone course in the student’s major that would weave together the various threads of the program. Many of the first-year courses had themes of social justice. Of the first twenty freshman seminars in the program, I counted thirteen that were related to themes of race, gender or some other form of oppression
I volunteered to be on a committee that set guidelines and referred course proposals for the sophomore seminar in multiculturalism. In an email to the dean offering my services I told him I was concerned that critics of multiculturalism such as Shelby Steele and Christina Sommers would not be considered for the classes. I was told that my services would not be needed. At the time I was chair of the math department, and as such, I attended the monthly meeting of chairs and program directors run by the dean. In a discussion of how we award transfer credits, I asked what type of course would be accepted as transfer credit for the sophomore seminar. The dean exploded and screamed at me “you’re the chair of the committee, you decide.” In retrospect, I should have simply immediately walked out; but I sat there, and the meeting proceeded without getting an answer to my question. The point was made that questioning the appropriateness of the school’s social justice agenda would not be taken kindly.
The political climate at DePaul would be on full display following the events of 9/11. In the wake of the attacks on the Twin Towers, the Pentagon and United 93, the DePaul administration reacted by sending a series of emails to the entire DePaul community warning about blaming Muslims for the attacks. In language that included reference to the internment of the Japanese after Pearl Harbor, it reserved its concern for the possibility that someone might make an insulting remark to one of the DePaul students of Arab background.
On 9/13, two days after the destruction of the Trade Center, the political science department held a forum that advertised itself as getting to the deeper meaning of the events. What actually occurred at the forum was one faculty member after another getting up to denounce American foreign policy as the cause of the attacks. The forum was attended by a large crowd including many of the college’s administrators who applauded loudly as the newly appointed visiting professor of political science, Norman Finkelstein, said that “difficult as it was, it was important to empathize with the hijackers” and “Americans care only about their consumer products.” I eventually stood up and yelled “God Bless America, Goddamn DePaul” and walked out.
Three years later, at a student activity fair at the start of the school year, an adjunct professor at the school for New Learning, Tom Klocek, got into an argument with a group of students from the Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP). They were handing out leaflets claiming that Rachel Corrie had been deliberately murdered by an Israeli bulldozer when she lay down in front of it to prevent it from destroying tunnels used to smuggle terrorists into Israel. To put the event in context, one week before this event, there had been several horrifying terrorist attacks including the slaughter of 350 school children in Beslan, the blowing up of two Russian airplanes in midflight and a bomb placed on the Moscow subway. In response, El Arabiya published a statement decrying Muslim violence against others that included the widely quoted statement “that while not all Muslims are terrorists, it is extremely painful that almost all terrorists are Muslim.”
Upon encountering the SJP leaflet, Klocek got into an argument with the students about who was responsible for the violence in Israel. In response to the students comparing actions of the IDF to those of Nazi Germany, Klocek quoted the comment from Al Arabiya. Further arguing ensued, Student Affairs was alerted, and Tom made a gesture of flicking his thumb under his chin and left. The students complained that their ethnicity and religion had been insulted and Tom was suspended with pay for the rest of the quarter and a letter was sent to the DePaul community mentioning that there had been a couple of incidents of DePaul not living up to its values. I wondered what that was about until an article was published in the DePaulia describing the incident and its aftermath. A week later the dean of the School for New Learning, published a letter in the DePaulia apologizing to the students for the incident.
One year later the DePaul Cultural Center, an entity created as part of the response to the MIC recommendations, sponsored a two-day event that featured Ward Churchill lecturing to students about diversity. The DePaul Conservative Alliance (DCA) was upset about the school spending a good deal of money to bring in Churchill for an official DePaul administratively sponsored activity to educate students. They confronted the director of the center rather aggressively about their choice of speaker. They also got a letter from the governor of Colorado suggesting that Ward Churchill was not an appropriate person for the school to sponsor. The DePaul Conservative Alliance put up posters with some of Churchill’s quotes, and they were removed by Student Affairs who claimed that they violated a school policy against propaganda (no such policy ever existed). The DCA was banned from the workshop with Churchill.
In the winter quarter of 2016, the DCA staged an affirmative action bake sale in which they set up a table in the student center and sold cookies with different prices that were determined by whether the students were male or female, white or black, an obvious satire of affirmative action. This was done by a women’s liberation group in the 1970’s to protest unequal pay for women. This bake sale was shut down by Student Affairs, and the DCA was banned from using university facilities for a year because they had not informed Student Affairs of the political nature of their event.
Shortly afterward, DePaul was hit by an apparent hate crime hoax in which the campus was vandalized by racial and anti-Semitic graffiti that included a comment that it was “brought to you by the College Republicans.” It was generally assumed that the graffiti was a hoax, an attempt to frame the College Republicans, perhaps in response to the bake sale.
As a result of these events, FIRE picked out DePaul as one of the worst violators of free speech among all universities and colleges in the US. DePaul received two separate awards for being among the most politically correct institutions. Its president, Dennis Holtschneider, was named as the second worst college president for protecting free speech rights.
During spring quarter, 2008, a group of conservative students brought a speaker from the citizen border patrol group, the Minutemen, to campus. In response to widespread criticism of the impending talk, the school administration imposed a $2500 fee for security at the event. In addition, they changed the location three times, banned media from attending and capped the audience at 200. At the event, a large crowd of protesters paraded outside including one with a sign calling one of the student organizers a fascist.
In the fall of 2008, Natan Sharansky was invited to speak on campus. The sponsors of the group were asked to provide a copy of his speech in advance which they did not do. However, the administration insisted that they be shown a copy of the introductory remarks to be made by a student speaker. Later on in the year, during the spring quarter, 2009, the announcement of a speaker from Israel to talk about rocket attacks on southern Israel included a plan to display an unarmed Qassam rocket to help illustrate what the Jewish state was up against. This prompted a letter to the DePaul faculty from nine student groups asking them to prevent the use of the rocket as a prop.they Nine student groups on the left argued that the weapon would be dangerous both physically and emotionally even though it would not actually have been armed. Secondly, they argued that it would support the Israeli side of the Arab/Israeli conflict without input from the Palestinian side.
In January 2013 Kristopher Del Campo and other pro-life students received permission from the university to erect a pro-life display featuring 500 flags. The flags representing aborted babies were displayed on an open area central to the DePaul campus. A group of students from a gender studies class vandalized the flags, throwing many of them into a trash basket.
The university’s public safety department investigated and identified 13 students who confessed to the crime and admitted that their actions were inappropriate. Those names were then published online. Del Campo was then charged by the university for releasing the names and found guilty by the university on two counts – “Disorderly, Violent, Intimidating or Dangerous Behavior to Self or Others” and “Judicial Process Compliance.” Once again, a way was found to turn the conservative student victims into oppressors and the offending pro-choice students into victims.
The Free Speech Task Force
In response to the controversy around the Klocek matter and the bake sale, DePaul created a free speech task force to try to reconcile the need to preserve a community that allows for vigorous uncensored speech and the demands of some to prevent speech that they deem offensive. The committee came up with a proposal that was a vigorous defense of free speech. Unfortunately, a subcommittee of the Presidents Diversity Council (PDC) claimed that they were the ones who decided speech policy and managed to intimidate the task force into rescinding its proposal. One of the task force members, a student Nick Hahn, published two articles in Frontpage Magazine, here and here that described what happened to the task force’s proposal As a result, hysteria followed in which Nick Hahn was denounced for violating confidentiality, the PDC subcommittee members declared they felt unsafe and threatened, Nick was kicked off the task force and the whole attempt to guarantee free speech rights was abandoned. In the recent DePaul discussions about the Milo incident, there are numerous references to the free speech task force, all from the perspective of the people who sabotaged it.
As regards the current controversies at DePaul over free speech, the administration is sponsoring an ongoing series of discussions on the issue of race and free speech. Some of its recent efforts can be seen here and here. The school has also assembled a group to look at considering university policy regulating speech. Needless to say, some of the biggest opponents of free speech are now on this new task force.
DePaul’s Political Climate
In light of the numerous times DePaul has been on the radar of FIRE, an obvious question to ask is why. Was there something unique about DePaul’s culture that made it particularly prone to attacks on free speech? DePaul is a Catholic school with a student body that comes from backgrounds that are not particularly liberal. Chicago is firmly in the camp of the Democratic Party but Chicago Democrats are not especially left-wing. Is DePaul more politically left than other colleges and universities? Clearly, it is overwhelmingly liberal but no more so than hundreds of other schools.
Many schools recently have had their fair share of attacks on free speech. In many cases, the administrative weakness has wittingly or unwittingly enabled disruption of talks given by conservative speakers and in some cases led to infringement on the political rights of conservative student groups. In most cases administrators have operated out of a kind of cowardice, believing that the disrupters are best off appeased rather than confronted. DePaul is different because much of the political bias is coming from the administration itself.
What struck me as unique about DePaul is that the administration made no effort to conceal its political biases. Rather, it reveled in them. In its public relations, it displayed great pride in producing public intellectuals, faculty who contributed their views to local media or gave talks in the community. Invariably, while such activity was described as using expertise to contribute public service, it was generally representative of a strong liberal agenda. In its hiring practices, there was an emphasis on hiring women and minorities as well as a preference for those whose research agendas contained the buzz words of gender, race and class. In addition, the school was very proud of its choice of very liberal graduation speakers because they helped advance the university’s mission.
There was a tremendous push to promote multiculturalism. Money was allocated to create a variety of programs and centers that were identity oriented. Administrative staff was hired to support agendas associated with identity. This sounds relatively benign. Minority cultures make up part of the United States. In some ways, we are a nation of minority subcultures. But at DePaul, multiculturalism was always centered on grievance.
There is a problem with this approach. It becomes difficult to criticize minorities. From this point of view, their grievances are real, particularly historically, and so people don’t really have the right to comment on them unless their comments reinforce an appropriate narrative. When conservative students confronted the director of the Cultural Center about spending a lot of money to bring in Ward Churchill to educate DePaul students about diversity, they were deemed bigots. When they staged a protest of affirmative action, they were told they were racist. When pro-life students on the fortieth anniversary of Roe v. Wade put up flags to protest all the abortions since the Supreme Court decision, they must have been anti-women. Hence, after students outraged by the flag display vandalized their protest, a way was found to make the pro-life students the villains rather than those who destroyed their flags.
Tracing events at DePaul all the way back to the Lilly Foundation grant and the recommendations of the Multicultural Implementation Committee in the mid-90s, one can see the conflict between the administration and its conservative students as driven by a political agenda. It is a view that sees the world as separated into protected classes and their oppressors. Over the years the school has developed rules regarding various forms of harassment. These guidelines are codes which essentially say that in conflicts between a member of a protected class and its opposite, favor the member of the protected class.
When the university administrators say they are banning Milo from speaking on campus because he is a provocateur who strives to wound rather than persuade, they are being disingenuous. They banned Ben Shapiro as well as Milo. Though Holtschneider acknowledged that the differences with Shapiro were basically political rather than his style, he was banned anyway because they were afraid of more disruptions. The bottom line is that speech codes, anti-harassment rules and regulations concerning speakers are about political repression. Conservative students understand this very well.