DePaul Alumnus Speaks out Against University’s ‘Managing’ of Ideas

By April 5, 2011

As I wrote here a few weeks ago, the DePaul University administration has offered shifting explanations, none of them satisfactory or in line with the free speech promises DePaul makes to its students, for its refusal to recognize the student group Students for Cannabis Policy Reform. Regarding a February 28 article in The DePaulia, I wrote of DePaul Vice President for Student Affairs James Doyle (emphasis mine):

[I]n a February 28, 2011, article in the student newspaper The DePaulia, Doyle … distorts SCPR’s goals and confirms that the group is being discriminated against on the basis of its viewpoint, but nonetheless claims that free speech is alive and well at DePaul.

More recently, FIRE accused DePaul of "denying recognition to the student group, Students for Cannabis Policy Reform – first saying that the university wasn’t ready to "manage" the group’s message, then saying that allowing the group on campus might promote poor decision-making in matters of student health," according Lukianoff’s article [The Huffington Post's "The 12 Worst Colleges for Free Speech," which includes DePaul]. DePaul’s Vice President of student affairs, James Doyle, argues this, saying "My issue was advocating a group on campus that was interested in legalization of the drug. I would, however, fully support a program for open discussion and debate on campus, and that is the main difference."

Of this bolded statement I wrote that "Doyle seems to have no issue with the inherent contradiction between welcoming a ‘program for open discussion and debate’ and explicitly stating that such possibilities are closed to groups ‘interested in legalization’ of cannabis."

Now, in a letter published yesterday in The DePaulia, alumnus Nicholas G. Hahn III describes his dissatisfaction with DePaul’s record on free speech. Interestingly, Hahn helped to draft DePaul’s Guiding Principles on Speech and Expression (frequently cited by FIRE, frequently ignored by DePaul), and describes even the process of writing that noble statement as being fraught with interference from the administration. Hahn writes that "[t]he drafting of the Principles was a highly contentious process during which nearly all the players of a typical university battle interjected themselves." Nonetheless, the statement is more than clear enough to give an idea of DePaul’s obligations and promises. As the Guiding Principles state:

DePaul is committed to fostering a community that welcomes open discourse. We believe that intellectual inquiry is enriched immeasurably by robust debate and exposure to differing points of view. By remaining open to a broad range of ideas and opinions, we foster mutual understanding, test our beliefs and create the most effective conditions for seeking knowledge.

Unfortunately, these words don’t seem to mean much in practice, as Hahn notes. He sharply criticizes Doyle’s statements, as well as those of Cynthia Summers, Associate Vice President for Student Affairs at DePaul, who offered the irrelevant explanation in The DePaulia‘s February 28 article that "[w]hat we can’t allow is the disruption of work – whether that’s in an office or in a classroom."
As Hahn writes:

Doyle claims the reason the university rejected the SCPR was because the university wouldn’t be prepared to "manage" its message. Well, Jim, what other ideas are you not prepared to manage? A university ought not engage in the business of managing ideas; rather, it should be a place where all ideas can be heard, studied and challenged.

Summers’ statement is perhaps just as absurd. She argues a university cannot allow the "disruption of work," asserting that a student group such as SCPR would do so. What work are you referring to, Cyndi? If the university’s job is to educate students, then no idea should be banished from the marketplace of ideas. According to Summers, certain ideas are disruptive and, at this point, the university’s "work" becomes management-as Doyle would say-and not education.

Hahn’s brief but incisive letter is well worth reading in full, and references previous cases at DePaul in which FIRE has been involved, such as the university’s improvising a rule banning "propaganda" for the purposes of preventing DePaul’s College Republicans from protesting an event featuring controversial academic Ward Churchill. With FIRE having had numerous run-ins with DePaul throughout the years, it’s hard to dispute his conclusion: While the marketplace of ideas continues to suffer, "management" is doing as well as ever.

Schools: DePaul University Cases: DePaul University: Discrimination against Student Organization