DePaul launches free speech lecture series after banning conservatives

DePaul University has announced a year-long series of speakers who will be discussing race and free speech, despite having recently banned two conservative firebrands from its campus.

According to the Depaul Newsline, the series is “Depaul’s broad action plan to address issues that came to a tipping point last spring,” and “will offer perspectives across the political spectrum on various topics including race, free speech and hate speech, and the current political climate.”

“We recognize these issues facing all of American higher education will not be solved overnight,” DePaul President Rev. Dennis H. Holtschneider told the Newsline. “Through this series we are hoping to enrich and inform a conversation that provides our university community with fresh and real ways to live our Vincentian commitments.”

In recent months, however, the university has come under fire for announcing that Ben Shapiro and Milo Yiannopoulos, two provocative conservative speakers who promote free speech and mock political correctness, would not be allowed on campus due to concerns about student protests.

“Given the experiences and security concerns that some other schools have had with Ben Shapiro speaking on their campuses, DePaul cannot agree to allow him to speak on our campus at this time,” Vice President of Facilities Bob Janis told Campus Reform in August.

Although the Shapiro ban was preemptive, DePaul’s decision may also have been informed by its experience a few months earlier when Yiannopoulos came to campus. In that case, several Black Lives Matter protesters stormed the stage and took the microphone from Yiannopoulos’ hand, after which the university declined to approve a request to bring the firebrand back to DePaul.

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The website also identifies several specific goals that DePaul hopes to accomplish with the series, saying the university aims to “engage in a dialogue on...race and free speech” from “a variety of perspectives,” as well “think through the complex ways in which such ideals are implemented in action” while providing “an inclusive environment for these conversations.”

Some of the speakers that will be participating in this year’s free speech series include Michael Eric Dyson, an author and professor of sociology at Georgetown University; Jeff Chang, an author and professor at Stanford University; Martin R. Castro, the chair of the U.S. Commission of Civil Rights and president and CEO of Castro Synergies; and several other professors from other universities and colleges.

DePaul also encourages students to submit proposals for additional speakers and lays out specific guidelines, noting that “the impact of a polarizing speaker’s campus visit spotlighted the need to re-examine speech and expression guidelines to test our resolve to model discourse,” a reference to the Yiannopoulos event in May.

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The guidelines go on to state the goals that the events should have such as “develop the capacity to absorb opposing points of views” and “build reputation for promoting free expression in an inclusive environment”.

“Ever since the whole Milo thing, my school has been very hypocritical. They have their own definition of what free speech is,” DePaul sophomore Nick Sansone told Campus Reform. “Ben Shapiro should certainly be allowed on campus. I was surprised when they banned him. It seems they do not welcome conservative viewpoints.”

DePaul's Young Americans for Freedom (YAF) chapter also took a negative view of the announcement in light of the bans.

"Whatever reason DePaul has for its vendetta against free speech is unclear," YAF said in a statement to Campus Reform

"The administration’s frequent boastings about how much the university values open discussion is entirely at odds with its suppression of conservative speakers and ideas. We wholeheartedly reject the notion that the university is worried about large protests at our proposed Shapiro event and believe that the administration is using the guise of ensuring safety to cover up its ongoing crusade against DePaul conservatives."

"While the Ben Shapiro ban is not a First Amendment issue in that the government is not banning speech, as a university, DePaul should be committed to the free exchange of ideas,” added DePaul senior Gabriella Caldarone. “If DePaul really cares about diversity, it should stand for diversity of thought. If everyone looks different but thinks the same, that's not true diversity."

Shapiro seemed to agree, calling the series “a pathetic joke” in light of the school’s past actions.

“DePaul's own commitment to free speech extends only to quashing it if their students can't control their reactions to ideas with which they disagree,” he told Campus Reform. “Furthermore, for DePaul to host a series on race, when they simply allow the Black Lives Matter movement to run roughshod over opposing viewpoints, demonstrates that they're liars as well as ideological fascists: they're pretending that one side of the debate represents the entirety of the debate.”

Follow the author of this article on Twitter: @kassydillon

This story has been updated with a statement from DePaul's YAF chapter.