Longtime Free Speech Foe DePaul University Drafts ‘Guiding Principles of Free Speech and Expression’

By on January 16, 2008

DePaul University is no stranger to free speech fiascos. In fact, the school is now infamous for its failure to back up its promises of free speech for students and faculty with actions supporting liberty on campus.

Loyal Torch readers will remember FIRE’s involvement at DePaul several times in recent years. In 2005, school administrators suspended a professor without a hearing for arguing with pro-Palestinian students outside of class. That same year, DePaul instituted a ban on “propaganda” after the College Republicans posted flyers protesting the university’s invitation to controversial professor Ward Churchill to lecture on campus. And in 2006, the school shut down an affirmative action bake sale hosted by the DePaul Conservative Alliance and called the group’s actions “discriminatory harassment.” 

In response to the public relations nightmare that emerged from these events, DePaul President Dennis Holtschneider created a Free Speech and Expression Task Force last year to contribute to policies regarding speech on campus. Today, FrontPageMagazine.com reports that the Task Force has issued a draft of its long-awaited document.

The Task Force’s Guiding Principles of Free Speech and Expression are—according to an e-mail the committee sent to the university community—not intended to be university policy, just “a bridge between DePaul’s Mission and values and its enforceable university policies and procedures.” The Guiding Principles are now up for review by the DePaul community, and the Task Force has announced a series of public meetings during which it will seek input as to “whether these Guiding Principles are an accurate reflection of the values and culture of our community regarding speech and expression.”

The draft of the principles was sent to FIRE by a member of the DePaul community and states:

DePaul University Guiding Principles on Speech and Expression

**DRAFT**

Free speech and expression are central to the purpose of the university. Research, scholarship, and education are impossible without open discourse and robust debate. The exercise of reason depends upon one’s ability both to express and to listen respectfully and critically to competing arguments. We aspire to be a community marked by compassion and mutual respect, in which we never lose sight of the potential effects, both beneficial and harmful, of our words and our expressive conduct. When such words or conduct harmfully affect the community or its members, we should respond by reflecting ever more seriously on our shared values of compassion and respect, and by fostering education about our enduring commitment to inclusiveness and reciprocal understanding. Ultimately, by remaining open to a broad range of ideas and opinions—even those that may appear to some detestable, uncomfortable, or false—we foster mutual understanding, test our beliefs, and create the best conditions for seeking knowledge. Intrinsic to our belief in the value of inclusive conversation is a commitment to the right of speakers to voice their viewpoints even at the risk of controversy, and a correlative respect for the right of listeners to respond with their own expression, or to choose to turn away. DePaul’s vital and distinctive Catholic and Vincentian mission makes free expression particularly important at this university. Our mission places the highest priority on instruction and learning, activities that are immeasurably enriched by exposure to differing points of view. Our mission serves to foster a community of diverse beliefs and values in order to serve the common good inside and outside the university; such a community cannot thrive without full and open communication. And, above all, our mission strives to ennoble the dignity of each person. That dignity depends in no small measure upon the individual’s freedom to give voice to his or her beliefs.

Some of this language suggests that DePaul’s Task Force may actually understand what FIRE means when we tell people not to shut down speech you disagree with, but to combat it with more speech. Take this excerpt, for example:

Ultimately, by remaining open to a broad range of ideas and opinions—even those that may appear to some detestable, uncomfortable, or false—we foster mutual understanding, test our beliefs, and create the best conditions for seeking knowledge. Intrinsic to our belief in the value of inclusive conversation is a commitment to the right of speakers to voice their viewpoints even at the risk of controversy, and a correlative respect for the right of listeners to respond with their own expression, or to choose to turn away.

The FrontPageMagazine.com article, written by a student member of the Task Force, explains that there were some bumps along the way:

Now the Task Force removed the phrase “discovery of the truth,” because the idea that there is “truth” can be harmful and excluding to the oppressed. So can “God-given dignity.” These are “right-wing buzzwords” in any case—at least according to the leftists on the Task Force. Sonia Soltero, a President’s Diversity Council appointee, was baffled by the concept that a university was founded on the pursuit of truth. She had never heard that before. She would rather understand the university as a place for “exploration” and “seeking knowledge.” And one of our new members, Theatre School professor Phyllis Griffin, even went so far as to say that whenever she reads “God-given dignity” she feels the “heavy, historical foot of the Catholic Church on her neck.” Really? At the largest Catholic University in America?

With these steps, the Task Force managed to change the idea of a university and denigrate the Church that had created theirs. All in just a couple strokes on the keyboard.

A university is not about feeling “comfortable.” The pursuit of truth is often the contrary. In fact, a university isn’t about “feelings” but knowledge. It is about reason and inquiry.

The article then cites Greg on the following basic principle: If a college student isn’t offended during his time at a university, he should ask for a refund. The university experience is uniquely centered around challenges, debates, rigorous discussions, and exposure to ideas you may not have heard before.

Controversy surrounding the Task Force’s word choices aside, we encourage members of the DePaul community to attend one of the scheduled meetings to give input on the Guiding Principles and to call onDePaul to live up to the role of a modern research university by allowing its students the freedoms they deserve—freedom to debate, speak, protest, and inquire—without fear of discipline or censorship.