An Open Letter to DePaul’s Trustees
Dear Trustees of DePaul University,
DePaul University needs your urgent intervention to maintain freedom of expression on its campus. Within the past few months the “heckler’s veto” has effectively silenced two invited speakers, first Milo Yiannopoulos and now Ben Shapiro.
The lifeblood of American higher education is the free exchange of ideas. DePaul’s own Guiding Principles on Speech and Expression state: “We believe that intellectual inquiry is enriched immeasurably by robust debate and exposure to different points of view.” But DePaul has failed to actualize these principles; its administrators have preferred to disinvite both Mr. Yiannopoulos and Mr. Shapiro, rather than hearing out their controversial opinions. DePaul needs your leadership to help it live up to the courage of its own convictions. Absent that, it will ultimately fail to prepare students for the debate and discourse on which a free society depends.
DePaul is hardly the first college to encounter challenges to intellectual diversity and freedom of expression. It would, however, set a disturbing precedent for other institutions if it chooses to concede that it cannot guarantee the free exchange of ideas on campus.
Two things need to happen. It must be made clear to university officials that they are obligated to protect freedom of expression. And it must be made clear to the university community that disrupting a scheduled event will draw down severe sanctions. This is essential to deter subsequent disruptions. In taking such a stand for free expression and the rule of law, you, as fiduciaries, will establish DePaul University as a leader among colleges in promoting free and open inquiry.
Second, we urge you again, as we did in two earlier letters, to formally adopt the principles of the University of Chicago’s 2014 Report of the Committee on Freedom of Expression. Princeton, Winston-Salem, Purdue, and Chapman have already done so. Johns Hopkins, American University, and the University of Wisconsin System have adopted similar policies affirming the value of free speech.
Among the Chicago Principles is the following: “The University’s fundamental commitment is to the principle that debate or deliberation may not be suppressed because the ideas put forth are thought by some or even by most members of the University community to be offensive, unwise, immoral, or wrong-headed. . . . Indeed, fostering the ability of members of the University community to engage in such debate and deliberation in an effective and responsible manner is an essential part of the University’s educational mission.” These need to become enforceable operating guidelines for the campus.
We look forward to hearing how you will proceed, and we hope that DePaul will emerge from this sad episode as a place where vigorous debate and intellectual diversity flourish.
Dr. Michael Poliakoff
American Council of Trustees and Alumni