DePaul University’s Track Record on Speech & Expression
DePaul University’s “Guiding Principles for Speech and Expression at DePaul University” claims a strong commitment to free speech – which the administration doesn’t apply in practice.
- We deem free and open expression as essential to intellectual inquiry. We affirm that, as a university, we have a responsibility to provide a setting in which a broad and diverse range of ideas can be exchanged civilly and respectfully.
- We affirm the right of members of the DePaul community to engage in speech and expression consistent with the values of academic freedom, free inquiry, and civil discourse.
- We affirm the right of individuals to express their viewpoints, even at the risk of controversy.
- We affirm the right of individuals to choose whether and how to respond to speech and expression. This may include responding with additional speech and expression, such as protests that respect the right of individuals to express their views.
Yet DePaul University has two policies on the books that should be revised to bring them into compliance with the First Amendment.
- Anti-Discrimination and Anti-Harassment Policy
- “It is the policy of DePaul University that no person shall be the object of discrimination or harassment.”
- Examples of harassment “include, but are not limited to, verbal abuse, offensive innuendo, derogatory comments, or the open display of offensive objects or pictures concerning a person’s race, color, ethnicity, religion, sex, gender, gender identity, sexual orientation, national origin, age, marital status, pregnancy, parental status, family relationship status, physical or mental disability, military status, genetic information or other protected status.”
- Student Organization Speaker Review Procedures
- Regardless of whether they are requesting funding or not, a student group must obtain a recommendation from the Speaker Review Committee and the Associate Vice President for Student Affairs before a speaker can visit campus.
- In choosing whether to grant a recommendation, the Speaker Review Committee and Associate Vice President are able to consider a variety of criteria, including “whether the speaker has a history of abuse or intimidation of an identifiable person or community of people in a derogatory fashion based on race, color, ethnicity, religion, sex, gender, gender identity, sexual orientation, national origin, age, marital status, parental status, family relationship status, physical or mental disability, military status, genetic information, or other protected status.”
- The University also forbids any speakers that “encourage hatred or physical violence.”
- However, within these Procedures, the University makes no effort to define what constitutes “abuse,” “intimidation,” or “hatred.”
These policies are inconsistent with principles of free speech and expression because they chill students’ speech.
- The University’s policies use subjective terms that are overbroad and vague – which, at a public university, would be unconstitutional. This gives administrators broad discretionary powers to pick winners and losers.
- The terms used by DePaul could be interpreted differently by every student (what’s “hateful” to one person might not be hateful to another).
- In addition, the Speaker Review Procedures and the Anti-Harassment Policy use the term “other protected status” to describe groups about whom one should not speak derogatively. However, it’s unclear which other statuses are “protected” under the policy. Before the term “other protected status,” the policies list examples of statuses to which they apply – and some of these statuses aren’t considered protected by Illinois or the federal government.
DePaul has a long and unfortunate track record of free speech violations on campus. Examples of censorious behavior exhibited by DePaul administrators over the last decade:
Banning “controversial” speakers:
- In 2016, DePaul denied conservative commentator Ben Shapiro from speaking on campus and even went so far as to threaten to have him arrested if he tried to attend the event or even come on campus. Shapiro challenged the decision: “Just to be clear, if I attempt to enter that hall right there, and sit down, just to listen to somebody speak, or if I attempt to ask a question, or engage in free speech, you will have me arrested?”
Instituting heavy security fees and venue restrictions:
- DePaul’s requirement that students pay for security officers to monitor their speaker discussions won them the Lifetime Censorship Award given by the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE).
- In 2016, the university tried to minimize the impact of conservative speaker Milo Yiannopoulos by switching the reserved venue and slashing his speaking time. Shortly after Milo’s appearance, DePaul removed their ratings system on Facebook because so many students were expressing their outrage with the situation by giving one-star ratings.
Rejecting student initiatives based on content or potential conflict:
- In 2019, a faculty council at DePaul University passed a resolution condemning pro-Israel professor Jason Hill after he published an op-ed in The Federalist.
- In 2017, DePaul refused to allow the Young Americans for Liberty group host a “free speech ball” event where students harmlessly toss a beach ball around campus and let students express their thoughts without fear of censorship. The university claimed the event would create “an environment which invites hate.”
- In 2016, DePaul stopped College Republicans from writing Pro-Trump slogans in chalk after a student group complained the messages were “hate crimes.” Their official reason, however, for the censorship was that the chalking “threatened DePaul’s tax-exempt status”– never mind the student’s right to civic participation during an election year.
- In 2016, the College Republican chapter was forbidden from distributing pro-life flyers on campus that said “Unborn lives matter.” The University president at the time said the flyers were “bigotry… under the cover of free speech.”
Delaying decisions and policy changes:
- In 2016, the Chicago Tribune editorial board wrote an opinion piece criticizing DePaul for taking too much time to consider changes to its speaker policies:
“Our problem with DePaul moving slowly and cautiously — a predilection in academia — is that a basic component of free expression is the timing: Shutting someone up for a day or a month or a year until everyone’s ducks are in a row is a form of censorship. It tampers with the ability of a speaker to be relevant. Political campaigns, social movements, the news flow and the commentators who riff on it — they all operate on a clock that won’t stop while DePaul convenes meetings and studies initiatives and ponders what to do. DePaul, as a private Catholic university, can set its own rules on speaker invitations. But if it takes its role seriously as a place of learning and discourse, it should commit to respecting free expression — not with lip service, but with courage that becomes routine.”
If DePaul doesn’t plan on actually providing students with free speech or expression rights, then it shouldn’t claim to do so.