DePaul University, which bills itself as “the Largest Catholic
University in America,” was described as a “basket case” on a Hannity and
Colmes segment because of its questionable “commitment” to free
speech. In the past couple of years DePaul has suspended,
without due process, a professor who defended Israel. It has created de
facto policies to prevent students from posting flyers opposing an
on-campus event featuring the plagiarist professor Ward Churchill.
It has also shut down a student-run Affirmative Action Bake Sale in
which cookies were sold at different prices depending on the customer’s skin
color because the campus left was offended. It later condemned the student
group sponsoring the bake sale in a university-wide email.
DePaul seemed to have no grasp of the freedoms vital to a university.
To cope with the public relations problem its actions had created, last year
DePaul president Rev. Dennis Holtschneider assembled a Free Speech and
Expression Task Force, of which I was a student member, and charged it with
creating a “policy” concerning speech on campus.
The Task Force has finally produced a document: Guiding Principles
of Free Speech and Expression. The Task Force chose a wise path in
deciding against adopting speech codes against “hate speech,” a term which
does not appear in the Principles. In fact, the
language of the document seems to open the doors of the University to all
ideas––as it should. It respects “open discourse and robust
debate” and at the same time remains “open to a broad range of ideas and
opinions” as a way to “create the best conditions for discovering the truth.”
Most importantly, it’s not patronizing and it respects the “right of listeners
to respond with their own expression, or choose to turn
It’s also eloquent in its commitment to “ennoble the God-given dignity
of each person”––wait just a minute, I’m sorry. Scratch
that whole part about dignity being “God-given.” Such a
reference would alienate members of our community who do not believe in
“What?” a concerned friend asked me when I informed him of what had
“Yes,” I said, “the Task Force voted to remove ‘God-given’ from the
Guiding Principles before releasing it to the university community.
That’s not all. The Task Force also voted to remove the
phrase ‘create the best conditions for discovering the truth.’
‘Truth’ was too ‘strong’ and too ‘offensive’ a word for a free speech
“Why?” my friend asked.
To understand why, it is important to examine the make-up of the Task
Force committee. Typically, university-wide committees are hot seats for
activist faculty and staff. Student representation is kept
to a minimum, generally two or three in a committee of twenty.
The professors sitting on Faculty Councils aren’t those professors who
have a singular commitment to scholarship or teaching––no, not at
all. These are professors who scratch, claw, and fight
their way onto committees because, well, they miss their Berkeley
days. The staff, too, is mostly comprised of former
students who are predictably left-leaning. So already,
university committees––the ones that make policy, distribute budgets, and hire
new faculty––are, by their very nature, tilted well to the left.
Very rarely does a conservative find his way on a university-wide
committee, especially one that examines a controversial issue.
In my case, the university must have felt obliged to seat me on this
Task Force, since its formation was primarily sparked by the campus
discussions and events that my student organization, the DePaul Conservative
Alliance, had initiated. When I received the notice, I knew
I was in for the long haul. However, except for concerns
raised once in a while that our strategy of “no policy” may allow for
any speech including that which is “offensive,” the drafting of the
Principles went eerily well. We even decided to
examine existing university policies concerning speech and offer revisions
contingent upon the new Principles.
It was all too good to be true.
As soon as the President’s Diversity Council got wind that a Free
Speech Task Force was working on Principles which were rumored not to
prohibit “hate speech,” it made sure we heard its concerns.
The Council sent its Teaching, Learning, and Negotiating Diversity
subcommittee, which is comprised of some of the most aggressive
professor-activists DePaul ever made the mistake of hiring.
Its chair is Sociology professor Ted Manley, who has
authored papers with titles such as “Teaching on White Racism: Tools for
Consultant Training” and “Teaching Whites about Others and Social Change.”
Another member of the committee is law professor Sumi Cho who once claimed in
a university forum that in holding an Affirmative Action Bake Sale the DePaul
Conservative Alliance members were engaging in “racial pornography.”
Apparently we were sexually gratified by putting on an event designed to
expose the hypocrisy of proposing racial preferences as a civil rights
Manley and Cho told us our Principles were fundamentally invalid
because we lacked a diverse racial make-up in membership. Isn’t it important
to note the ideological diversity on this Task Force? “No,”
Manley said, and pointing to the back of his hand added, “it is about this:
skin color.” Cho then highlighted words and phrases in the
Principles she considered to be “hegemonic.” Hegemonic phrases
allegedly exclude the marginalized and oppressed. Among the
highlighted phrases were: “free speech and expression,” “exercise of reason,”
“competing arguments,” and “immeasurably enriched by exposure to differing
points of view.” According to Cho, free speech should
provide “an environment that encourages enfranchising the disenfranchised” and
discontinues “the practice of exclusion and marginalization.” According to
Cho, “hegemonic free speech” (her term) does the opposite.
If this is the first time you’ve ever encountered the phrase “hegemonic
free speech,” don’t assume you’re alone in that experience.
A less ideological person might ask whether free speech doesn’t by its
very definition empower all ideas and give them the opportunity to be
expressed? “No,” Cho responded indignantly when this was
suggested: “Some members of the community are silenced by offensive
speech.” Silenced? Isn’t that
patronizing the “oppressed,” whom Cho is claiming to protect?
Doesn’t this severely minimize the ability and indeed, the right of the
“marginalized” to express their ideas?
Bowing to the Manley and Cho, the Task Force added some new members who
met their diversity standard. Our newly assembled Task Force took up the
concerns they raised. Not surprisingly, the new members were not only diverse
by skin color, they were also ideologically in tune with Manley and
Cho. Most of the Task Force now agreed that some
speech does “threaten the community.” Some speech
does silence, because it “wounds” and is “so hurtful.”
Some people simply don’t have a voice. And so,
students who are offended should be given a special “safe space” where they
feel “comfortable” speaking publicly with potential offenders
Now the Task Force removed the phrase “discovery of the truth,” because
the idea that there is “truth” can be harmful and excluding to the
oppressed. So can “God-given dignity.”
These are “right-wing buzzwords” in any case––at least according to the
leftists on the Task Force. Sonia Soltero, a President’s Diversity Council
appointee, was baffled by the concept that a university was founded on the
pursuit of truth. She had never heard that before. She
would rather understand the university as a place for “exploration” and
“seeking knowledge.” And one of our new members, Theatre
School professor Phyllis Griffin, even went so far as to say that whenever she
reads “God-given dignity” she feels the “heavy, historical foot of the
Catholic Church on her neck.” Really? At the largest
Catholic University in America?
With these steps, the Task Force managed to change the idea of a
university and denigrate the Church that had created theirs.
All in just a couple strokes on the keyboard.
A university is not about feeling
“comfortable.” The pursuit of truth is often the
contrary. In fact, a university isn’t about “feelings” but
knowledge. It is about reason and inquiry. As Greg
Lukianoff, head of the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, has
often said: If you aren’t offended at least four times a day at a university,
you should ask for your money back. And if you aren’t being
offended, you must not be paying any attention. Students
are better able to grasp ideas if their own are
Manley, Cho, Soltero, and Griffin can go on with their agendas––march
in support of the Jena 6, make their annual donation to the Rainbow-Push
Coalition, sign their friends up for Amnesty International’s e-newsletter,
post a comment on DailyKos or whatever their activist hearts
desire. But they should not think for one second that they
are advocates of free speech. Or representatives of what a modern research
university should be. The real advocates are those students who give
voice to their beliefs and fearlessly engage in the ideas of
 Guiding Principles
of Free Speech and Expression:
Free speech and expression are central to the purpose of the university. Research, scholarship, and education are impossible without open discourse and robust debate. The exercise of reason depends upon one’s ability both to express and to listen respectfully and critically to competing arguments. We aspire to be a community marked by compassion and mutual respect, in which we never lose sight of the potential effects, both beneficial and harmful, of our words and our expressive conduct. When such words or conduct harmfully affect the community or its members, we should respond by reflecting ever more seriously on our shared values of compassion and respect, and by fostering education about our enduring commitment to inclusiveness and reciprocal understanding. Ultimately, by remaining open to a broad range of ideas and opinions—even those that may appear to some detestable, uncomfortable, or false—we foster mutual understanding, test our beliefs, and create the best conditions for seeking knowledge. Intrinsic to our belief in the value of inclusive conversation is a commitment to the right of speakers to voice their viewpoints even at the risk of controversy, and a correlative respect for the right of listeners to respond with their own expression, or to choose to turn away.
DePaul’s vital and distinctive Catholic and Vincentian mission makes free expression particularly important at this university. Our mission places the highest priority on instruction and learning, activities that are immeasurably enriched by exposure to differing points of view. Our mission serves to foster a community of diverse beliefs and values in order to serve the common good inside and outside the university; such a community cannot thrive without full and open communication. And, above all, our mission strives to ennoble the dignity of each person. That dignity depends in no small measure upon the individual’s freedom to give voice to his or her beliefs.