CHICAGO, February 20, 2006—DePaul University has acquitted a conservative student group that was charged with harassment for holding an event that satirized affirmative action. Until the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) intervened, DePaul administrators had been investigating the DePaul Conservative Alliance (DCA) for holding an “affirmative action bake sale” protest.
“It’s about time DePaul realized that dissenting opinions are not the same thing as harassment,” stated FIRE Interim President Greg Lukianoff. “FIRE has had to intervene in case after case of viewpoint discrimination at DePaul. The university’s record of repression is shameful.”
On January 17, the DCA held an “affirmative action bake sale” protest in DePaul’s student center. Students across the country have held affirmative action bake sales to satirize what they see as injustice in affirmative action policies. In this case, the DCA advertised that African American and Hispanic students would be charged lower prices than white and Asian students for the same items. The primary goal of these “bake sales” is to spark debate, not to raise revenue.
After shutting the bake sale down, DePaul administrators charged the DCA with violating the Anti-Discriminatory Harassment Policy. FIRE sent DePaul President Dennis Holtschneider a letter on January 23 but Holtschneider failed to respond. FIRE brought the case to public attention on January 30, resulting in an outpouring of criticism of DePaul’s actions. Then, on February 15, the DCA members were found not guilty of violating the harassment policy, but were found guilty of failing to disclose in advance that the bake sale would be used to protest affirmative action.
“DePaul was wise to take FIRE’s words to heart in deciding to acquit the students of any harassment charges,” stated Lukianoff. “It is hard to believe that the remaining sanctions are a result of how the DCA registered the protest and not its controversial content. Furthermore, should students really be expected to register their political protests in advance? That is a truly stifling interpretation of ‘free’ speech.”
Last November, the DePaul College Republicans (CRs) were banned from posting flyers protesting a visit by University of Colorado professor Ward Churchill. DePaul not only prevented the students from voicing dissenting opinions but even surreptitiously altered its policies to prohibit the CRs’ actions, and then misled FIRE about having done so.
As a result of the controversy that has ensued since the bake sale, the DCA is planning an event to clarify the role of open debate and dissenting opinions on campus. The DCA is considering inviting as a speaker Thomas Klocek, the DePaul professor whom FIRE defended last spring after he was suspended without due process for engaging in a heated out-of-class argument with students.
“DePaul has a terrible habit of praising free speech with one side of its mouth and denying it with the other. This is getting truly tiresome,” Lukianoff concluded. “FIRE is relieved that the DCA was not found guilty of harassment, but we expect that this is not the end of the suppression of dissent at DePaul.”
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.