DePaul Under Fire Again For Censoring Free Expression On Campus

January 4, 2006

DePaul University in Chicago, Illinois, is being accused of violating the free speech rights of a student group that protested a campus appearance by controversial University of Colorado professor Ward Churchill, an often inflammatory speaker who has compared America’s 9/11 victims to Nazis.

The College Republicans at DePaul claim officials at the Catholic university barred the student organization from putting up posters in protest of a campus lecture and workshop featuring Churchill in October. The school’s Office of Student Life reportedly called the group’s posters “propaganda,” even though the flyers primarily quoted words the controversial speaker himself had said.

Robert Shibley, program manager for the civil rights advocacy group called the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE), believes the College Republicans were targeted because of their viewpoint. “DePaul University can’t have it both ways,” he says. “Either it respects free speech and respects its students’ right to disagree with the decisions that DePaul administrators make, or it needs to come out and admit that free speech is not a priority at DePaul and that students aren’t going to be free to express their own opinions. You can’t have it both ways.”

Shibley says the College Republicans were not only barred from posting its protest flyers, but the conservative students were also prevented from attending Churchill’s workshop. After the group expressed interest in coming to the event, DePaul’s Cultural Center actually changed its own rules to make the Republican organization’s members ineligible to attend.

This was accomplished by limiting attendance to the workshop, which was originally advertised as being open to all student organizations. The Cultural Center restricted access to the event to “Student Organizations which are supported by the Cultural Center’s Allocation Fund,” and since the College Republicans are not, they were disqualified.

On November 23, FIRE intervened on behalf of the College Republicans, writing to DePaul University President Dennis Holtschneider to protest the school’s actions. FIRE urged the administration to reject “policies that place students individual rights and personal integrity at the mercy of university officials who are free to censor students at will.”

When Holtschneider responded December 12, he incorrectly asserted that the word “propaganda” is not part of any DePaul policy and went on to defend the university’s policy, claiming it is “enforced equally for all topics and positions” and that advertisements of speakers may be posted, but “Denunciations of speakers are not posted.” However, FIRE’s research indicates the policy was changed to reflect this position only after the College Republicans’ flyers were denied approval.

Shibley feels DePaul is ignoring its obligation to protect the First Amendment rights of its campus community members and reneging on assurances the administration made that it would do so. “DePaul is a private university and therefore has a wide latitude to engage in this sort of censorship,” he says. “However, they do promise both [to] FIRE and in their policies — they make a commitment to free speech.”

And this is not the first time, the FIRE spokesman notes. In fact, it is the second time this year that the free speech advocacy group has had to This is the second time this year that FIRE has had to intervene at DePaul. In May, Professor Thomas Klocek was suspended without a hearing after he engaged in an argument with pro-Palestinian students in a cafeteria on campus. The former DePaul instructor is currently suing the school over the actions taken against him.

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Schools: DePaul University Cases: DePaul University: Censorship of Student Group Protesting Ward Churchill