CHICAGO, September 26, 2016—Speech is free at DePaul University, so long as you’re willing to pay for it.
That is the regrettable lesson DePaul administrators have taught three separate registered student organizations—the DePaul Socialists, Young Americans for Freedom, and the College Republicans—that sought to exercise their free speech rights on DePaul’s campus this year. Each group had to pay exorbitant “security fees”—or speech taxes—to do so because of the content of their message.
On Friday, the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) wrote to DePaul, demanding that it honor the explicit free speech promises it makes to its students and cease its practice of charging security fees to student organizations based on the perceived controversial content of their events. This is the second letter FIRE has sent to DePaul in recent weeks about its clear violations of students’ rights. The DePaul administration refused to substantively reply to FIRE’s first letter.
Most recently, members of the registered student organization DePaul Socialists were told by university administrators that they must pay hundreds of dollars to have 3–4 security officers at their fall launch meeting—or else cancel it. When the students asked the administration for a reason, they were told it was due to the “controversial nature” of the issues to be discussed.
“Matters of social and political importance are often highly controversial,” said FIRE Senior Program Officer Ari Cohn. “If DePaul requires students to pay extra for the right to explore those ideas, DePaul’s promises of free expression are utterly meaningless. It’s disturbing enough to require a student group to accept the presence of university security officers at an informational meeting. Forcing them to pay for it is simply beyond the pale.”
After failing to convince the DePaul administration to drop its speech tax, the DePaul Socialists held their fall launch meeting on September 21. The group agreed to pay approximately $360 for security officers because it did not wish to cancel the meeting shortly before it was supposed to take place. FIRE’s letter to DePaul asks the administration to refund the fee charged to DePaul Socialists and to only use narrowly-drawn, viewpoint- and content-neutral published criteria when assessing security costs for student groups’ campus events.
"DePaul University's decision to place restrictions on student organizations who wish to discuss political ideologies that differ from those of the administration reflects their lack of commitment to certain tenets such as social justice and the free exchange of ideas," said Samuel Peiffer, a member of the DePaul Socialists. “What this has resulted in is free speech for the administration, and ‘fee speech’ for student organizers.”
During the spring semester, DePaul twice levied heavy speech taxes on other student organizations wishing to hold events on campus.
In May, DePaul demanded that the College Republicans spend thousands of dollars to hire 16 security officers to host activist and journalist Milo Yiannopoulos on campus.
During Yiannopoulos’ appearance, student protesters stormed the stage and one protester swung her fist at Yiannopoulos’ face, while the hired DePaul security guards watched without intervening. Eventually, the College Republicans called the Chicago Police Department, who later arrived at the scene but were allegedly instructed by DePaul administrators to not intervene and instead to “stand and passively watch.”
In June, members of DePaul’s Young Americans for Freedom (DYAF) sought to host political commentator Pat Buchanan on campus. Three weeks after DYAF submitted its room reservation request to the administration for the event, it was told it could only hold the event if it hired eight security officers at a cost of $960.
“How DePaul determines which events require costly security fees remains a mystery,” said Cohn. “What isn’t a mystery is that these fees are just one of many tools DePaul has in its toolbox for censoring speech with which it disagrees. Just in the past six months, DePaul has also outright banned multiple speakers from campus and used bogus IRS justifications for censoring political speech during an election season. Is DePaul the worst school for free speech in the country? It just might be.”
In 2013, FIRE named DePaul to its “10 Worst Colleges for Free Speech” list for its repeated violations of its own free speech promises. These violations include charging a student with conduct violations for publicizing the names of students who had vandalized his group’s pro-life display on campus, discriminating against a drug policy reform group, shutting down an affirmative action protest, suspending a professor for his expression without a hearing, and forbidding a student group from protesting an appearance by Professor Ward Churchill.
The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) is a nonpartisan, nonprofit organization dedicated to defending liberty, freedom of speech, due process, academic freedom, legal equality, and freedom of conscience on America’s college campuses.
Katie Barrows, Communications Coordinator, FIRE: 215-717-3473; firstname.lastname@example.org