Friday, May 23, 2008

Illinois AAUP Letter of Concern about DePaul's Security Fees and Media Ban

Below is a letter sent today from the Illinois AAUP state council to DePaul’s president about DePaul University’s charging of security fees for a controversial speaker and banning media from a speech.

You can read various stories about the case from the Chicago Sun-Times, Young Americans for Freedom, and the Chicago Tribune. The Sun-Times editorialized against the fees.

ABC7 Chicago and Fox News Chicago had coverage of the protests, although they were barred from the speech itself by DePaul's administration.

(Full disclosure: I suggested the writing of the letter, and was the primary author drafting it.)

Here is the letter:

To: Dennis Holtschneider, President of DePaul University

From: The State Council of the Illinois AAUP (President Walter Kendall,

Date: May 23, 2008

Dear President Holtschneider:

The Illinois conference of the American Association of University Professors is deeply concerned about reports that DePaul University is planning to charge the DePaul Conservative Alliance (a registered student organization) approximately $2,500 in security fees for a speech that occurred on May 19.

These extraordinary security fees represent a threat to intellectual freedom. The 1967 AAUP “Joint Statement on Rights and Freedoms of Students” declared: “Students should be allowed to invite and to hear any person of their own choosing….The institutional control of campus facilities should not be used as a device of censorship.”(

In 2007, the AAUP’s Committee A on Academic Freedom and Tenure issued a report on “Academic Freedom and Outside Speakers” and noted, “It is of course the responsibility of a college or university to guarantee the safety of invited speakers, and administrators ought to make every effort to ensure conditions of security in which outside speakers have an opportunity to express their views. The university is no place for a heckler’s veto.”(

The heckler’s veto means allowing opponents of a speech to silence the speaker, whether it takes the form of shouting down a speech or putting an extraordinary cost on groups sponsoring speakers.

The amount of security required in this case has nothing to do with the size of the crowd, and is never required for less controversial speakers with crowds of a similar size. This amounts to a “controversy tax” on organizations that invite someone whom others object to.

These security fees set a dangerous precedent for free speech on campus. If a student group can be charged fees for the cost of protests against it, will individual faculty and students be charged fees for necessary security responses to those opposing their controversial ideas? While there may be legitimate security issues involving a controversial speaker, the university itself must bear the cost of protecting free speech, because this is one of the core responsibilities of any college. According to DePaul’s Speakers Policy, “DePaul University encourages its recognized student organizations to sponsor guest speakers whose presentation will contribute to the role of the university as a forum for intellectual discussion, debate, investigation and/or artistic expression.”( Imposing extraordinary security fees is no way to encourage student groups to sponsor guest speakers.

The views of a particular speaker may be deplorable and deserving of condemnation. But condemnation, not punishment or fees, is the only response that can ever be made to a student group for holding such an event.

We are also concerned that the media were banned from covering the speech itself. College officials should never prohibit media coverage of an event, unless the speaker or organizers demand it.

The Illinois AAUP asks DePaul University to cover the cost of all necessary additional security for controversial events without any charge to the sponsoring group. We encourage DePaul University to adopt a policy embracing this position, and to change its policies to clearly reflect AAUP statements on student rights and campus speakers.

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