DePaul Students Acquitted of Harassment Charges

February 20, 2006

FIRE’s press release today details the resolution of the latest infringement upon free speech at DePaul University. DePaul recently charged members of the DePaul Conservative Alliance (DCA) with harassment for holding an “affirmative action bake sale,” the point of which was to spark debate by satirizing affirmative action policies. FIRE intervened by writing a letter to DePaul President Dennis Holtschneider on January 23 and then going public on January 30. DePaul took FIRE’s objections into consideration, saw the error of its ways, and acquitted the students of harassment charges. The students, however, were not cleared of all charges, as DePaul found them guilty of failing to mention when registering the event that the bake sale would actually be used to protest affirmative action. As a result of this failure to accurately register the bake sale, the DCA will serve a “university censure” for one year, and must participate in or host an affirmative action event.

The resultant sanctions that have been imposed upon the DCA seem to reflect the controversial nature of the event rather than the lack of procedural accuracy in registering it. FIRE objects to the expectation that students clear their protests with administrators beforehand. Holtschneider himself must concede that protests or unpopular opinions are not encouraged at DePaul, and that if the students had requested permission to hold a protest, they likely would have been denied. In fact, in the last case that FIRE handled at DePaul, the College Republicans (CRs) requested permission to protest a campus visit by Ward Churchill, but were denied even the right to hang posters stating their disagreement with the event. In that case, administrators went beyond just denying the CRs the right to protest when they actually altered the policies to outlaw such a protest.

FIRE has worked tirelessly to prove to DePaul that dissenting, controversial, or offensive opinions do not constitute harassment. This latest occurrence marks the third time in one year that FIRE has had to intervene at DePaul, and while the current situation seems to be resolved for now, FIRE is prepared for DePaul’s next abuse of students’ and professors’ civil liberties.

Schools:  DePaul University