Two months after controversial conservative commentator Milo Yiannopoulos’ appearance at DePaul University drew furious protests, administrators have banned another high-profile conservative from speaking on campus.
DePaul conservatives who hoped to hear commentator Ben Shapiro speak in the fall aren’t happy about it and neither, it seems, are some college Democrats.
“Our position is that in this particular case, Ben Shapiro doesn’t cross the line on free speech,” said Jack McNeil, president of the DePaul Democrats. “If DePaul has drawn a line on speakers, we need to know what that line is and why it’s there.”
In May, at the invitation of college Republicans, Yiannopoulos was set to speak at the student center auditorium when protesters stormed the stage. Yiannopoulos — who delights in mocking feminists and civil rights activists, among others — was forced to abandon the event. The incident prompted much debate on campus about free speech. DePaul President Dennis Holtschneider issued a lengthy apology “for the harm that was unleashed by a speaker whose intent was to ignite racial tensions . . .”
While promising to put together a task force to look at speech on campus, Holtschneider also said at the time, “the bar on free speech is extremely high at a university.”
John Minster, vice chair of DePaul’s chapter of Young Americans for Freedom, said his group has been working for months to bring Shapiro to campus. Shapiro, unlike Yiannopoulos, is widely regarded as an intellectual, Minster said. Among other things, Shapiro is a nationally syndicated columnist and a Harvard Law School graduate.
“Ben is very good at talking about left versus right,” Minster said. “He’s great at articulating conservative issues in a unique and compelling way.”
But last week, Minster got word that Shapiro wouldn’t be allowed to speak on campus.
“I can confirm that we denied a request to bring Ben Shapiro to campus at this time as a speaker,” DePaul spokeswoman Carol Hughes said in an email to the Chicago Sun-Times. “DePaul University’s Office of Public Safety determined, after observing events which took place when Mr. Shapiro spoke elsewhere, that it was not in a position to provide the type of security that would be required at this time.”
For Minster, that’s not good enough.
“It’s incumbent upon [DePaul] to stand up to bullies and give Ben a platform to speak,” he said.
Minster said administrators are “trying to cover their butts as best they can” to avoid dealing with potential problems at a Shapiro event.
McNeil said in this case, administrators have gone too far.
“While [Shapiro] says some inflammatory things, we don’t think DePaul should not allow him on campus,” said McNeil, who described Shapiro as a “principled” conservative. “In our democracy, opposing sides need to be heard.”
In an email to the Chicago Sun-Times, Shapiro said DePaul has done a disservice to education and American values.
“It’s predictable that administrators fearful of student blowback would sacrifice free speech principles in favor of their own job safety,” he wrote. “They’ve now created a ‘rioters’ veto’ in which if a speaker says something that ‘trigger’ violent action, the speaker must be banned.”
“This creates incentive for students to engage routinely in violence in order to prevent those they dislike from entering their ‘safe space.’ ”
“They took this action out of cowardice,” he wrote. “They think the ramifications will be worse if they allow me to speak and their students get rowdy and violent than if they simply ban me.”