A conservative student group has been acquitted of a charge that it violated DePaul University’s anti-harassment policy when it conducted a protest against affirmative action, the school announced Monday. However, the DePaul Conservative Alliance (DCA) was found guilty of violating the Code of Student Responsibility and censured.
In January, the DCA held an “affirmative action bake sale” to mock affirmative action policies in higher education. The protests, which have occurred on other college and university campuses, involve white and Asian students being charged more for baked goods than blacks and Hispanics. The mock bake sales are designed to criticize affirmative action policies, not to raise funds.
DePaul officials shut down the protest and opened an investigation to determine if the conservative group violated the university’s Anti-Discriminatory Harassment Policy.
In a letter to DCA co-founder Michael O’Shea on Feb. 20, DePaul Vice President for Student Advocacy Cynthia Summers wrote that the school found the group not guilty of violating the harassment policy. Nevertheless, she said, the group had violated the Code of Student Responsibility.
The code requires that student groups “exercise good judgment in planning and promoting their activities.” In a statement released by the university, DePaul President Dennis Holtschneider explained that “the bake sale was a protest and was intentionally misrepresented by DCA in its promotion table application.”
As punishment, the group is required to participate in or host “at least one university-wide event concerning affirmative action principles and practices,” according to the letter. The university’s letter does not dictate the nature of the event, except for requiring that it be an “educational opportunity.”
The DCA will also be restricted from using university “promo tables” to advertise the club on campus for the remainder of the spring semester.
In his statement, Holtschneider wrote that DePaul “is committed to free speech, and as part of that commitment, we understand that we must allow even those activities that might startle or offend to take place, as long as those activities do not violate campus behavior policies.”
He added that “the university itself does not endorse a message merely because it permits it to be expressed.”
But the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE), a free speech advocacy group that criticized the original harassment investigation, questioned the university’s commitment to free speech.
“It is hard to believe that the remaining sanctions are a result of how the DCA registered the protest and not its controversial content,” FIRE President Greg Lukianoff said. He added that requiring students to pre-register political protests “is a truly stifling interpretation of ‘free’ speech.”
In his statement, Holtschneider criticized the bake sale, calling it “a provocative event viewed by many as an affront to DePaul’s values of respect and dignity, inclusiveness and diversity.” He announced that the university will sponsor “a series of forums on free speech and affirmative action at DePaul” to respond to the DCA’s critiques.