Thursday, February 16, 2006

Free Speech

From an email I got from DePaul today:

Dear Carlos,

Recently, a student organization held what has become known on college campuses across the nation as an "affirmative action bake sale." It was a provocative event viewed by many as an affront to DePaul's values of respect and dignity, inclusiveness and diversity. Concurrently, it raised questions about our commitment to free speech.

DePaul has completed a comprehensive review of the event to determine whether it violated our Student Code of Conduct or our new Anti-Discriminatory Harassment Policy. The reviewer interviewed or consulted with 20 people, including members of the DePaul Conservative Alliance (DCA), which hosted the event, and students who challenged the message it sent.

DCA explained in the review that its event was designed to be a "satirical protest" against affirmative action, particularly as it relates to admission policies, that would generate awareness and prompt discourse on the topic. The event, which included a menu board with prices based on one's race and gender, has been viewed by members of the university community as blatantly offensive and contrary to many of DePaul's core values.

The review concluded that the bake sale was a protest and was intentionally misrepresented by DCA in its promotion table application, violating the Student Code of Conduct. As a result of these findings, the organization has been censured, and sanctions have been applied. Our review also determined that the event did not violate the Anti-Discriminatory Harassment Policy because it was not directed at an individual, did not disrupt academic activity and did not demonstrate a pattern necessary to create a hostile environment.

DePaul has always been a pioneer in enrolling a broad array of students when other institutions would not. This proud legacy extends beyond racial minorities, to female, Jewish and Catholic students early in the 20th century. DePaul is proud of its history of welcoming students of many traditions and backgrounds to the university and then creating an atmosphere of respect and care for them. I support DCA's right to hold a protest on the topic of affirmative action. What I find troubling is that the protest was intentionally located across from the university's Cultural Center, a place where our students of color organize numerous enriching events for the campus community. I am not objecting that the event was, in DCA's own words, meant "to be incendiary." I am concerned that there is an appearance of having been directed specifically toward one group of the university community rather than the university community as a whole. In my opinion, this doesn't rise to the level of DePaul's commitment to create a welcoming atmosphere for all.

DePaul is committed to free speech, and as part of that commitment, we understand that we must allow even those activities that might startle or offend to take place, as long as those activities do not violate campus behavior policies. I hope our campus community knows that the university itself does not endorse a message merely because it permits it to be expressed. Our ancestors, who gave us the gift of free speech, understood that if we limit freedom of _expression for one, then we limit it for all. They taught us that the best way to counter speech with which we disagree is to greet it with more speech. Because of that, I am particularly grateful to the many student groups, faculty and staff who took the time to respond to this bake sale. They demonstrated both DePaul's deepest values and its commitment to vigorous debate.

To add to this response, I have asked Helmut Epp, executive vice president for Academic Affairs, and Elizabeth Ortiz, senior executive for Institutional Diversity, to sponsor a series of forums on free speech and affirmative action at DePaul. These events will engage the academic units, Faculty Council, Student Affairs, University Mission and Values, Institutional Diversity, Staff Council, the Student Government Association and student organizations in forums that will be open to faculty, staff and students. Information about these events will be posted on the Student Affairs Web site and available in the DePaulia once they are scheduled. This will complement the number of meetings and forums that already have been held to discuss the impact of this event on the DePaul community. I am very pleased that a diverse group of students have participated in these meetings and discussions.

Many universities are confronting these issues, and I anticipate a continuing conversation here as well. We engage in a daily balancing act as we affirm our strong commitment to free speech and academic freedom while living the values that are integral to our mission. Both intellectual discourse and the Vincentian tradition itself always begin with respect and dignity. Our community must hold firm to these foundational values as we explore these critical issues together.


Rev. Dennis H. Holtschneider, C.M.

I had heard about this from the grapevine and it never really did anything for me. The undergrads were pretty worked up about it, "Charging prices based on your gender or color! Oh my GOD!!!"

Maybe I'm cynical or maybe I've matured (a little, at least), but this was all "blah" to me.


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