Double Standard as Loyola University Chicago Unequally Restricts ‘Potentially Political Speakers’

By July 29, 2010

FoxNews.com quotes me in an article today about the double standard at Loyola University Chicago (LUC), a private religious university that has denied political strategist Karl Rove a chance to speak on campus prior to the November 2010 elections.

The FoxNews.com article emphasizes the double standard involved: according to LUC spokesman Steve Christensen, LUC has banned Rove until November because "the IRS has become increasingly more scrutinizing over not-for-profit universities and their tax-exempt status as it relates to political or potentially political speakers invited to come on campus." Yet LUC and its Division of Public Affairs (and others on campus) are co-sponsoring a major visit from Eboo Patel on August 27, 2010, whom LUC describes as "founder and executive director of Chicago-based Interfaith Youth Core and a member of President Obama’s advisory council of the White House Office of Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships." Patel is expected to "headline the First-Year Student Convocation, where he and President [Michael J.] Garanzini will induct first-year students into their graduating class, officially kicking off the students’ academic careers at Loyola."

If there is any question whether Patel is a "potentially political speaker," take a look at this article of his on Inside Higher Ed on June 17, 2010, in which he explicitly connects the theme of his upcoming LUC talk, "Interfaith Leadership and Transformative Education," with President Obama’s administration:

Last week, leaders from higher education gathered at the White House for a conference on Advancing Interfaith Service on College Campuses. Senior administration officials from the Department of Education, the Corporation for National and Community Service and two White House offices – of Faith-based and Neighborhood Partnerships, and of Social Innovation – addressed the crowd of university presidents, professors, chaplains and students.

That the White House would hold a conference on interfaith cooperation is no mystery; President Obama made the topic a theme of his presidency from the very beginning. But why a gathering that focuses on campuses? I think there are four reasons for this: [...]

President Obama has shown the way in each of the above categories, and college campuses are uniquely positioned to follow his lead.

In his inaugural address, Obama lifted up America’s religious diversity and connected it to America’s promise: [...]

Interfaith initiatives have been growing on campuses for several decades. The White House invited the vanguard of the movement to Washington, D.C., last week with a clear message: this administration appreciates what you have been doing, and we think you can do more. A movement goes from niche to norm when a vanguard recognizes its moment. For the movement of interfaith cooperation, this is the moment.

This is the voice that LUC students will hear on August 27—yet Rove’s voice is too "political."

Lest anyone think that LUC can maintain such a double standard because it is a private school, LUC appears to have freely given up its claim to such a distasteful violation of academic freedom. Here is a line from LUC’s "Mission & Identity" statement:

The search for truth is carried out in an atmosphere of Academic Freedom and open inquiry based on two fundamental assumptions of the Catholic faith. First, that the truth will set us free. Second, that faith and reason ultimately bear harmonious witness to the unity of all truth.

Perhaps worst of all, however, is LUC’s flimsy excuse that somehow the IRS is to blame. Even if we were to believe that this is the real reason that Rove is not being allowed on campus, it is a false line of argument. As I state in the FoxNews.com article:

It does not threaten the school’s 501(c)(3) status to permit a student group to bring even a politician to campus while the politician is in office.

In fact, LUC is far more endangered by IRS regulations if it directly sponsors a politician’s speech than it would be by permitting a student or student group to sponsor that same speaker. Students and student groups speak for themselves and may bring partisan speakers to campus even during an election season. To explain why—and how a university can best understand its rights and responsibilities in such cases—FIRE released a Policy Statement on Political Activity on Campus prior to the 2008 elections. I encourage LUC administrators to read it and live up to their school’s own mission of academic freedom.