CHICAGO, December 21, 2005—A student group that protested a campus appearance by University of Colorado Professor Ward Churchill has become DePaul University’s latest victim of censorship. The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) intervened after the university banned its College Republicans from posting flyers protesting Churchill’s visit and actually changed its own rules to prevent the organization from attending a workshop that he would be leading.
“Just as DePaul was free to invite Ward Churchill to speak, so should its students be free to object to that invitation,” said FIRE Director of Legal and Public Advocacy Greg Lukianoff. “DePaul’s president boasts of the university’s commitment to academic freedom and free speech, but actions speak louder than words.”
Churchill, who made news earlier this year for describing victims of the September 11, 2001, attacks on the World Trade Center as “little Eichmanns,” was scheduled to lecture and lead a workshop for student groups on October 20 and 21. In protest, DePaul’s College Republicans (CRs) printed flyers that quoted some of Churchill’s controversial remarks. DePaul’s Office of Student Life banned the CRs from posting the flyers, citing a remarkably vague policy prohibiting “propaganda.” The CRs, understandably confused as to how quoting a speaker’s own words could be “propaganda,” put up some flyers anyway, leading to a formal warning from DePaul.
DePaul’s Cultural Center went even further by actually changing the attendance requirements for the Churchill-led “Multicultural Human Rights Education Workshop” to exclude the CRs. Although the event was initially advertised as open to “student organizations,” after the CRs expressed interest in attending, the Cultural Center altered its website to limit the event to “Student Organizations which are supported by the Cultural Center’s Allocation Fund,” which the CRs are not.
On November 23, FIRE wrote to DePaul President Dennis Holtschneider to protest the university’s actions, urging the Catholic institution 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.” Holtschneider replied on December 12, incorrectly claiming that the word “propaganda” is not part of any policy at DePaul. Nevertheless, he defended DePaul’s policy, insisting that it “is enforced equally for all topics and positions. Advertisements of speakers are posted. Denunciations of speakers are not posted.” Yet FIRE’s research shows that the policy was amended to reflect this only after the College Republicans’ flyers were denied approval.
“It is immoral for DePaul to expect its students to abide by a policy that is selectively enforced, constantly shifting, and disavowed even by the university’s president,” said Lukianoff. “DePaul’s Orwellian attempts to rewrite history by changing its policies without notice—and then using the changes to retroactively justify repression—are also extremely disturbing.”
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 engaging in an out-of-class argument with pro-Palestinian students. Klocek is now suing DePaul for the actions the university took against him.
FIRE is a nonprofit educational foundation that unites civil rights and civil liberties leaders, scholars, journalists, and public intellectuals from across the political and ideological spectrum on behalf of individual rights, due process, freedom of expression, academic freedom, and rights of conscience at our nation’s colleges and universities. FIRE’s efforts to preserve liberty at DePaul University can be viewed at thefire.org/depaul.