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DePaul’s “1984” Moment By: Nicholas G. Hahn III
FrontPageMagazine.com | Tuesday, February 05, 2008

If you were to tour DePaul University’s campus asking students about free speech, you would notice the hesitation in their answers. For the past couple of years, the DePaul administration has earned a reputation as a foe of controversial ideas, especially those that offend or challenge the status quo. This has tarnished DePaul’s academic standing as a quality institution. To remedy this problem, President Rev. Dennis Holtschneider created a Free Speech and Expression Task Force and charged it with creating a policy for free speech that would hopefully rebuff any claims that DePaul isn’t a friend of the free marketplace of ideas.

I was appointed to this Task Force as the only conservative, in part because my student organization, the DePaul Conservative Alliance, tested the limits of free speech on this sensitive, politically correct campus, a number of times. Many of the Alliance’s events, such as an Affirmative Action bake sale which was shut down by the administration, provoked questions as to whether the University sufficiently allowed all ideas to be heard.

When the Task Force met, we thankfully opted not to create speech codes. Instead we drafted a document called Guiding Principles of Free Speech and Expression. The language of the draft document seemed to open the doors of the University to all ideas––as it should have. It respected “open discourse and robust debate” and at the same time remained “open to a broad range of ideas and opinions” as a way to “create the best conditions for discovering the truth.” Most importantly, it was not patronizing and it respected the “right of listeners to respond with their own expression, or choose to turn away.”

Before releasing the document to the University community, however, the Task Force wanted to hear preliminary feedback on its work. The President’s Diversity Council––a bureaucracy that oversees racial correctness on campus––jumped at the opportunity to tell us our Principles were worthless because no “person of color” was involved in drafting the document. The bullying worked. We decided to add members to our Task Force who were “of color” so we could head-off any future run-ins with the Diversity Council.

Our new members promptly argued for a serious departure from the model of free speech the Task Force had previously drafted, and just as quickly succeeded in their efforts. I was witness to the undoing of our Principles and the idea of a university itself. I was told that skin color mattered more than ideas in a discussion concerning free speech, and that ideas which offended persons of color “silenced” them and thus curtailed their free speech. I was told that the word “truth” is “offensive” and would “alienate” members of the DePaul community. The idea that human dignity is “God-given” was too “excluding.” Those who are excluded or “marginalized” should be given a “third option” to express their feelings because they may feel uncomfortable “speaking in a public forum or not satisfied with walking away.”

A university, in other words, should make everyone feel as comfortable as possible, perhaps a return to the Haight-Ashbury experience these professors miss dearly––no disagreement, no argument, no reasoning, no thinking, no responsibility. Their concept of “free speech” is meant to “protect those without power.” This model of free speech, of course, is not free at all. It is an ideological weapon which is regularly used to further the diversity agenda. A model of “free speech” which involves controlling speech in order to correct perceived injustices of the past is Orwellian to say the least.

Last week, in an article published here on FrontPageMag, I told this story of how the high priests of diversity rejected truth and God at what is billed as the “Largest Catholic University in America.” My article was published as the Task Force released its Guiding Principles of Free Speech and Expression, now scrubbed clean of anything “offensive.” In a university-wide email, the Task Force told students, faculty, and staff that it was “actively gathering input on the draft Guiding Principles from the broadest possible spectrum of voices within the university community.” I chose to publish my input on FrontPageMag.com.

As soon as my article appeared, the Diversity Council held a meeting with the president of the University and the Task Force. They demanded that something be done about the troublemaker, namely me. I pointed out that there had been no confidentiality agreement and the Guiding Principles had already been released. But they argued that members would no longer feel comfortable participating out of fear that whatever they say may be published. It was apparently inappropriate for me to hold these individuals accountable for their ideas. I could have been given a warning not to publish anything in the future without consent of the Task Force, which would have protected their sensibilities. But just as the race card helped to derail the Guiding Principles themselves, so now it sealed my fate. I ought to be ashamed, they told me, because the members of the Task Force named in my article were people of color. In other words, people of color are above criticism and my concern for free speech and the betrayal of its principles was essentially racist.

For President Holtschneider this was all he needed to hear. Each and every time an incident like this occurs, the administration buckles to the pressure of the diversity agenda; this time was no exception. Under apparent duress from the Diversity Council, I was informed that I would no longer be welcome on the Free Speech and Expression Task Force. So much for free speech.

Nicholas G. Hahn III is the President of the DePaul Conservative Alliance and a student of Political Science and Catholic Studies at DePaul University in Chicago, Illinois. Nicholas is a Phillips Foundation Ronald Reagan College Leaders Scholar and has been named among the 2006-2007 Top Ten Campus Conservative Activists by Young America’s Foundation.

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