February 1, 2006
Weaponizing the University: The Case of DePaul
DePaul University is rapidly becoming ground zero in the battle to reform academia's corrupted political culture. For the third time in less than a year the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education� (FIRE)� has publicly�rebuked the university for its politically motivated abridgment of free speech, this time for shutting down an anti—affirmative action bake sale and threatening to punish one of the organizers for violation of a newly instituted anti—discrimination policy.
The DePaul Conservative Alliance set up a table in the Student Center where they were selling cookies and suggesting differing prices based on race, ethnicity and gender. It was a satiric protest of affirmative action and it indeed sparked debate that was heated but not violent. After an hour the dean of Students came out and shut it down.
DePaul was rebuked in December by FIRE in connections with its actions forbidding the DePaul College Republicans from protesting the school's sponsorship of a speech in October by controversial University of Colorado professor Ward Churchill. In that case the university refused to allow the College Republicans to put up their own posters critical of Ward Churchill and barred the DePaul GOP from attending a workshop for student groups held on the day after his main lecture.
Making up new policies on the spot
The students were told that their posters violated a university policy against flyers that contained propaganda. Two months later the school retroactively changed its rationale for the ban. In a letter of explanation to FIRE, the university president, Father Dennis Holtschneider responded that the school did not permit posters that denounce or criticize invited speakers. He added 'I would personally not have used the word 'propaganda' to summarize this criteria and the word is not part of any policy at DePaul.'
Through some research of internet archives, FIRE determined that�originally there was no DePaul rule banning propaganda. DePaul inserted it in Octorber, 2005 to prevent the College Republicans from posting their flyers. After Holtschneider's letter was sent to Fire, the university�removed the "no Propaganda" rule from the relevant website.
Last May FIRE sent a letter to DePaul criticizing its suspension of adjunct professor� Thomas Klocek resulting from an argument with a group of pro—Palestinian students at a student activities fair. In that case Professor Klocek, who had an unblemished record of fourteen years of teaching at DePaul's School for New Learning, was suspended from teaching at the insistence of the students and their faculty advisers. The school received a great deal of criticism for its handling of the Klocek case both from� blogs and the�mainstream press.
Three FIRE cases against any university in a year is a lot. After the second case was filed, the director of FIRE appeared on Hannity and Colmes with the head the DePaul College Republicans declaring that DePaul was 'a basket case' for its treatment of free speech issues. After the latest incident dubbed by FIRE as 'the Sordid Legacy of DePaul', dealing with DePaul has become a full time job for them.
DePaul's lurch to the left
DePaul has become a symbol of what has gone wrong with academia, an icon for political correctness run amok. All three incidents exposed the central problem with the politically correct academy: the preferential treatment of women and minorities.
In the Klocek case, pro—Palestinian students, by positioning themselves as the victims of offensive speech, were able to successfully demand that DePaul get rid of a long time well qualified employee who had argued with them about the Arab/Israeli conflict. DePaul's response in this incident would not hold when the professor in question is a leftist insulting a conservative. See below.
In the case of the Ward Churchill visit, the DePaul administration was angry at the College Republicans for upsetting the director of the DePaul Cultural Center. They had criticized her for inviting a speaker who is notorious for saying that the victims of 9/11 got what they deserved, and had incurred her wrath by pressing her to explain why they were spending the students' tuition dollars to highlight such views.
In the case of the affirmative action bake sale, the activity was shut down after a group of African American students got into a serious but heated discussion about affirmative action with the organizers of the sale.
The common concern that appears to have motivated the school administration in all three cases is what it sees as its role as the special protector of minorities and minorities alone. The university has just put into place an elaborate anti—discrimination policy that is in effect a speech code designed to protect some fifteen 'protected classes' of people from perceived harassment. But as can be seen from the university's actions in the cases that have been addressed by FIRE, such policies in practice are defined so broadly as to make the protected classes immune from criticism of any sort. At DePaul the right not to be offended has become the right to not be criticized — if you can position yourself in one of the fifteen protected classes.
The university has sought to introduce the issues of gender, class and race into its curriculum. An examination of course descriptions in the social sciences and humanities at DePaul will show a considerable number that promise to address these issues. The school takes pride in tackling these important issues. But one has to question whether the school is sincere about having a serious discussion of such questions.
DePaul's double standard for left wing faculty
There was a third event in connection with the Churchill visit, a follow—up discussion two weeks after his speech led by a panel of DePaul faculty associated with the Cultural Center. It was advertised as a 'Difficult Dialogue.' In the negotiations between the College Republicans and the DePaul administration prior to the Churchill visit, the DePaul GOP members had been told that they could be represented on the panel but calls and emails from the College Republicans to the school administrators concerning the arrangements went unanswered and they were left off the panel.
I did not attend the "Difficult Dialogue" but I spoke at length with Nick Hahn from the DePaul College Republicans who did. It is interesting to hear Nick's version of events that pretty well sum up DePaul's idea of a difficult dialogue.
The discussion began with a clip from the film Control Room — a documentary about the Arab news network Al Jazeera. The film ended with a clip of Donald Rumsfeld saying 'we all know that Al Jazeera is a propaganda network.' A girl in the audience responded by saying
Nick Hahn got up and responded.
Nick Hahn was virtually alone in having opinions that were in opposition to the views of the panel members. He had seated himself in the audience next to the director of the Cultural Center and Tim Sproggins from student affairs. After he got up to dispute the claim that "Rumsfeld was a lunatic" Sproggins got up and said
He and the director of the Cultural Center got up and walked out of the meeting.
Nick later objected when the panel member from the Sociology Department compared the invisibility of janitors who died in the trade Center to the invisibility of blacks lynched in the south. Nick asked why he was bringing up lynching in the context of current day America. The United States has changed in the last forty years. There are no lynchings anymore. What was the point of dwelling on the past to describe the situation today that is vastly better?
Nick's point was countered with a claim that Chicago is still a segregated city with blacks living on the south side and whites living on the north side. Here again Nick objected saying that there was no government—enforced segregation as there had been in the south. This brought forth gasps from the audience. One of the panelists, Sumi Cho responded with 'Do you actually go to college?'� The girl who had called Rumsfeld a lunatic added 'I can't believe there are still people who think like you at DePaul.
Near the end of the discussion a black man in the back said
I think it is unfair to characterize Nick's views as against people of color. All he said was that it is better to look at how much has been accomplished than to dwell on the injustices of the past. But I think the man's remarks point out how intimidating the atmosphere is for someone who doesn't share the ideology of the Cultural Center.
It is interesting to see how DePaul reacted to a professor saying 'Do you actually go to college?' to a student who dissented from the prevailing views of the panel. Her scolding remark was made in front of a roomful of people whose hostility to the student was repeatedly manifested by gasps and derisive comments.
In his letter to FIRE, President Holtschneider wrote
This hands—off treatment in an incident of a professor publicly insulting a student stands in stark contrast to the treatment of Tom Klocek who was summarily suspended following an argument with a group of pro—Palestinian students passing out anti—Israel literature at a student activities fair. They complained that they were offended by his quoting a newspaper article that said that most terrorist actions were committed by Muslims and for saying that the current notion of Palestinian nationhood had come into being after the 1967 war. In justifying the suspension he was told that the students were deeply hurt by his behavior and were "healing."
To be honest, I don't think Nick was crushed by the response he got at the 'Difficult Dialogue' and I don't think he spent time 'healing.' He understood that he disagreed with the people sponsoring the meeting and he went there to present his case.
Laughable claim of "neutrality"
But the most disingenuous claim that the DePaul administration has made is that they are institutionally neutral. I have been very involved in faculty governance at DePaul for the last ten years, as the chair of my department for three years and as a member of the faculty council for six years. I can assure you that there is no institutional neutrality in the selection of speakers, the support of conferences, the choice of general education requirements, the hiring preferences, the criteria about admissions and financial aid and the overall allocation of resources. The university is agenda driven (in their words it is mission driven) and the agenda is political.
A simple check of outside speakers at DePaul include,�Bernadine Dohrn,�Deval Patrick, Julian Bond,� Kwame Toure (Stokeley Carmichael)�Sami El—Arian,�Kathy Kelly, Eric Foner, Michael Dyson,� Angela Davis,�Hurricane Carter,�Sister Helen Prejean, Norman Finkelstein, and Jesse Jackson to name just a few of the more prominent ones. While there have been exceptions, the school generally brings in speakers who favor abortion, oppose Israel, favor gun control, support affirmative action, oppose the death penalty, oppose American foreign policy, and oppose the war in Iraq. While the school sponsored several forums prior to the war in Iraq, there wasn't a single speaker chosen who spoke in favor of the government's policy.
The university's response to 9/11 was to counsel everyone to resist calls for a military response and to prepare for forums and therapy. While DePaul graduate Todd Beamer was joining with the passengers on flight 93 to save saving the capitol of the United States by overcoming the hijackers, the school administration was preparing memos advising the faculty and staff to avoid saying something offensive that might embarrass the university. This one from the dean of Liberal Arts was sent to LA&S faculty staff on the morning after the attacks.
Two days after 9/11 a faculty panel organized by the Political Science Department provided speakers who blamed the attacks on Israel and the United States, opposed any military action by the US against al—Qaeda. A year later at a remembrance ceremony to mark the return to classes there were no displays of patriotism, no flags, no singing of God Bless America, and the events of 9/11 were described in terms that made it sound like we were commemorating a natural disaster. There was no mention of the fact that the attack was perpetrated by a group of people with an agenda to kill as many Americans as possible.
When a new set of general education requirements were put into place, an experiential learning course became a requirement. The pilot course for this requirement was a course in which students worked with the group 'Voices in the Wilderness' that at the time was seeking to end the sanctions against Iraq. Another piece of the Liberal Studies Program, a freshman 'Explore Chicago' course had one option to study Chicago gangs, a course that included meetings in a West Side vacant lot with the former head of the Gangster Disciples, who was paid by DePaul for his services.
The school chose to hire one of Israel's most severe critics, Norman Finkelstein to teach political science and in particular the politics of the Arab/Israeli conflict. The school sponsored an exhibit of Palestinian art that was blatantly anti—Israel. While the student group that brought it was well within its rights to do so, the event was enthusiastically endorsed by several academic departments, the office of student affairs and the school's administration. A World Islamic Studies Program was created that includes a course on the Arab/Israeli conflict that is taught from the Palestinian perspective.
This winter DePaul is hosting a Theme Series, 'Confronting Empire' that is a series of lectures, films and round table discussions around the theme of empire. Lest one think this is about empires in the abstract, the list of announced speakers includes many speakers who are intense critics of both Israel and the United States. In particular, two of the first events featured Chris Hedges the former New York Times reporter who was recently booed of the stage at a college graduation in Rockford for going off on a rant about George Bush. An example of his hostility to Israel can be found in his�report from Gaza, a Harper's article from the summer of 2002. The organization Camera that monitors mideast reporting for its accuracy wrote a strong�reply on their website. Israel and the United States are not the only objects of his ire as can be seen in this�attack on evangelical Christians.
It is clear both from the title 'Confronting Empire' and the list of speakers that this is not going to be an objective discussion of foreign policy. It will be an attack on the US and its ally Israel. Certainly students have a right to question why DePaul is spending their tuition dollars to promote anti—American and anti—Israel feelings. But what is more shocking is that the program is being linked to as many as fifty courses so that attendance at the series events will be part of the grading process. Not only is this program indoctrination but it is mandatory indoctrination.
I could continue to describe DePaul's politicizing of admissions, financial aid, hiring, graduation speakers, and academic programs. What I have observed is a weaponizing of the university to serve the personal and political agendas of a group of administrators and their faculty allies. This is not the purpose of a university.Jon Cohen is a Professor of Mathematics at DePaul.