Every so often, FIRE gets a case where the behavior of university administrators is truly mystifying. Our most recent case at DePaul is one example, and is the subject of today’s FIRE press release. That press release, and particularly its related links, is chock full of information about how DePaul went about silencing a group that was critical of the university’s decision to sponsor a campus lecture and workshop by Professor Ward Churchill. It’s truly a chilling story.
What makes this case even more remarkable than the usual story of administrative abuses is that DePaul’s president, Father Dennis Holtschneider, told FIRE in a letter that the word propaganda did not appear in any policy at DePaul—a statement that was demonstrably and unquestionably false. There is no room for doubt. Here it is in DePaul’s Flyer Posting Policy. The word “propaganda” is in there—there’s no mistaking it.
So why would President Holtschneider tell us it wasn’t, especially when we pointed out this very policy in our letter to him? Was it a bald-faced attempt to lie to us and get us to drop the case? That seems unlikely, considering that the policy was on the website for all to see. Did he perhaps intend to change the policy after reading our letter in attempt to blunt our objection to DePaul’s actions? That doesn’t seem to have happened, so we can rule that out. In any case, FIRE already had the goods on DePaul, so a lie to us would have had little effect, and we have to assume President Holtschneider knows that.
This leaves a possibility that should actually be much more disturbing to President Holtschneider and the DePaul community in general—that someone is either lying to Holtschneider or is willing to lie on behalf of the university president. If Holtschneider himself actually wrote the letter and didn’t intentionally lie to us, the best explanation is that someone lied to him about DePaul’s policies. While FIRE hopes that a university president would take the initiative to get fully informed on civil liberties controversies on campus, we realize that this isn’t always going to happen. Perhaps Holtschneider simply asked someone in his administration whether the university had a ban on propaganda, and he or she told him there wasn’t. The other alternative is that Holtschneider signed his name to a letter that someone else wrote, and that person decided to lie on his behalf. These both imply that someone close to the president was either lying or, I suppose, horrendously negligent. If I were President Holtschneider, I would be extremely upset right now. And if I were a student at DePaul, I would be taking a very close look at an administration that seems to be full of people who are willing to deceive others and manipulate policies in order to promote a political agenda. No university, private or public, should be willing to countenance employing such people.