DePaul University may be a top academic institution, but it ranks near the bottom on free speech.
So says the nation’s leading monitor of campus speech codes, the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education. FIRE has just published a scathing article on DePaul’s speech-suppression policies.
The title: Is DePaul America’s Worst School for Free Speech? The competition for that skunk’s prize is fierce, but you have to admire DePaul’s pluck in pursuing it. Wesleyan is right up there, as usual. So is Northwestern, Marquette, Colorado College, and the University of California, San Diego. The list is here. But that list was published last February. Since then, DePaul has been hard at work suppressing speech, hoping to gain a spot on the list-of-infamy next year.
DePaul’s most impressive act of speech suppression was banning chalk messages from sidewalks. Yes. DePaul’s leaders are imitating Mrs. Krabappel, the Simpsons teacher, who cannot allow Ralph Wiggums to have any crayons because poor Ralphie is so dumb he will eat them. DePaul has taken away the students’ chalk. This came after the mass-fainting and mental-health emergency caused when one student apparently chalked the hate message, “Trump 2016.”
DePaul has not publicly stated whether students will be allowed to watch the evening news or access the internet, where messages like this have occasionally been sighted. One option would be to install child-proof software on all student computers and mobile phones, strengthened to block political messages that differ from university administrators’ deeply-held beliefs.
DePaul’s reason for taking away the students’ chalk would receive an “F” in a first-year law class. Writing for FIRE, Ari Cohn explains:
After some were offended by the chalking—including the grounds crew who erased the messages—DePaul Vice President of Student Affairs Eugene Zdziarski emailed the student community banning any partisan chalking on campus. The justification? That as a tax-exempt entity, DePaul is prohibited from participating in political campaigns and supporting candidates for office.
But as FIRE has repeatedly explained every election cycle, that argument holds no water. Tax-exempt colleges and universities are themselves prohibited from endorsing candidates and participating in campaigns, but their students most certainly are not.
Ari Cohn, writing for FIRE
DePaul’s efforts to suppress speech are a long-running project, as thorough-going as they are absurd. To quote Cohn again
And there have been numerous cases in between now and then supporting the conclusion that DePaul has a viewpoint discrimination problem: In 2006, DePaul charged a student group with harassment for holding an event that satirized affirmative action. In 2010, a student organization advocating for the reform of marijuana laws was denied recognition because the university disagreed with its message. In 2013, DePaul charged a student with conduct violations for publicizing the names of students who had vandalized his group’s pro-life display on campus.
The administration refused even to permit posters criticizing one speaker: the infamous Ward Churchill. For another speech, sponsored last year by conservatives, the university refused to pay for security guards and demanded the students themselves pay for a dozen or more. This year, to atone for having allowed a conservative speaker on campus, the university is funding a year-long series on race, featuring the usual suspects.
There is no cognitive diversity, of course. The university actively discourages it. When discouraging isn’t enough, they flatly prohibit it. They take away the chalk. When it comes to preventing speech they don’t agree with, DePaul’s administrators, faculty, and students are regular Blue Demons.1