CHICAGO, January 6, 2006—Under pressure from the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE), DePaul University has lifted a vague ban on “propaganda” that it used last fall to silence student protest of a campus appearance by controversial University of Colorado professor Ward Churchill.
“The revocation of the ‘propaganda’ ban is a step in the right direction for DePaul,” said FIRE Interim President Greg Lukianoff. “Yet DePaul’s disregard for freedom of expression reaches far beyond this one policy. The true test will be how DePaul reacts the next time students attempt to express dissenting opinions.”
DePaul’s College Republicans (CRs) suffered censorship last October after they opposed the university’s invitation to Churchill to lecture and lead a student workshop. To protest the events, the CRs produced flyers recounting some of Churchill’s controversial remarks. When the CRs submitted the flyers for approval, administrators responded first by misleading the CRs into thinking that the event was cancelled, then by invoking a policy that stated, “We do not approve propaganda.” The students, who did not believe that quoting a person’s own remarks was “propaganda,” posted the flyers anyway, leading to a formal warning from DePaul and a surreptitious addition to the policy saying that posters could be used only to promote events, not to protest them.
The CRs contacted FIRE, and on November 23, 2005, FIRE wrote a letter to DePaul President Dennis Holtschneider, pointing out that the vague and constantly shifting ban on “propaganda” gave administrators the unfettered power to censor student speech at will. Holtschneider replied on December 12, incorrectly asserting that no DePaul policies mentioned the word “propaganda” and stating that the policy prohibits the denunciation of any speaker appearing at DePaul. Yet FIRE’s research shows that not only did the “propaganda” ban exist, but the stipulation that flyers may only “promote events” appeared in the policy after the College Republicans’ flyers were denied approval.
FIRE brought DePaul’s shifting policies to public attention in a press release on December 21. Several hours later, Holtschneider contacted FIRE to say that an addendum had indeed been “recently added indicating that flyers promoting ‘propaganda’ will not be accepted” and that he had “asked for it to be removed.” Holtschneider went on affirm “DePaul’s respect for freedom of speech and role in providing outlets for conversations between individuals with a variety of viewpoints.”
The propaganda ban was not DePaul’s only attack on freedom of expression. For instance, DePaul’s Cultural Center actually changed the attendance requirements for the Churchill-led “Multicultural Human Rights Workshop” to exclude the CRs. Although the event was originally advertised on the Cultural Center website as open to all “student groups,” 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,” a group that did not include the CRs. DePaul is also being sued by ex-professor Thomas Klocek, who was suspended without due process after an out-of-class argument with Palestinian students.
“In the past year, DePaul has punished one professor for his private expression, arbitrarily censored student protest, and made several attempts to rewrite history in the process,” said Lukianoff. “DePaul’s students and faculty will need to practice constant vigilance to ensure that the university lives up to its promises of free speech and open dialogue.”
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.