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DePaul limits Free Speech, Students for Cannabis Policy Reform deserve a presence on campus

Published: Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Updated: Monday, August 27, 2012 16:08

Last spring, a Huffington Post article ranked DePaul as one of the worst colleges for freedom of speech on campus.

This is because DePaul heavily controls speech in the hopes of retaining its Catholic and Vincentian values, and relentless bureaucratic structure.

The Huffington Post article referenced the student group Students for Cannabis Policy Reform (SCPR), who tried to gain formal recognition by the Office of Student Life in spring of 2010. In the end, James R. Doyle, the vice president of Student Life, denied their request. In an email to the SCPR, Director of Student Life, Suzanne Kilgannon wrote, "Our vice president feels very strongly that having an approved group on campus would send an institutional message that he believes we are not prepared to manage."

Freedom of speech should not reflect the issues agreed upon by the majority. The students' group is centered around their ideas and beliefs, which are protected by the First Amendment. However, DePaul doesn't seem to recognized students Constitutional rights.

According to the DePaul Undergraduate Student Handbook, "Students have the right to their own ideas, beliefs and political associations." The handbook also states that "Students have the right to ask questions and express their opinions without affecting their academic evaluations, as long as such do not interfere with the normal operations of their classes or infringe on the rights of other students in their classes." This portion of the text seemingly limits students' freedom to express their ideas and beliefs. However, SCPR would have had to do something to actually interfere with normal operations and classes for this rationale to apply, which did not occur.

So why then, was SCPR denied a presence on campus? To maintain DePaul's grasp of conservative values by streamlining what sort of "free speech" is appropriate for a Catholic university.

"This school has an LGBT club, which is a great thing, but it demonstrates that their ‘Catholic' values have little to do with similar minded people assembling on their grounds. No, this was purely political. Nobody wants to send their little girl to a school where drugs are openly endorsed," says founder and president of SCPR, Jeff Kramer.

While SCPR was not disruptive to any classrooms, apparently challenging the Catholic doctrine is enough to be considered "a violation against the school."

With regards to the university's freedom of speech on campus, Kramer isn't convinced student speech is all that free. "We have freedom of speech within strict boundaries, which is not freedom of speech. A few years back a professor, I hear a good one, was fired for voicing his pro-Palestinian beliefs. Even as an Israel supporter, I found this appalling and a clear demonstration that this place does not allow people to freely and openly discuss matters, no matter how controversial. If a topic as harmless as the policies surrounding Cannabis can't be discussed, then clearly freedom of speech and open opinion are not respected or allowed by DePaul to the degree in which they promised," he said.

The complete authority of DePaul's bureaucratic system brings into question how much freedom of speech and expression is actually given to students.

There is a loophole on our freedom of speech in the Student Handbook. While it does say that students have a right to their own ideas and beliefs, it's the "do not interfere with normal operations of their classes" part that scares me. It seems like it saying everyone has the right to free speech and is acceptable and encouraged here, but if it interferes with classes the administration then " a violation against the school." and is wrong. Since when does one beliefs or ideals become "wrong"? Is it because it goes against DePaul's beliefs and ideals? This loophole in the Student Handbook has the potential to be exploited by whomever holds the power in DePaul's bureaucratic system and should be questioned.

How long is DePaul willing to curb freedom of speech and expression in order to keep its conservative values alive? It's time for Rev. Holtschneider and the administration to wake up. It's time to re-evaluate where DePaul's freedom of speech lies in relation to its Catholic and Vincentian values.

Without this First Amendment right, our ideas, beliefs and attempts to inspire and influence others mean nothing. The DePaul administration is trying to maintain a certain modern Catholic value institution in which it claims to be a very accepting of others, but is sometimes willing to curb its freedom of speech given to students in order to maintain that image. That repression thus contradicts the image DePaul strives to be.

Regardless of how one feels about the legalization of Cannabis, the fact that the students of SCPR were denied their First Amendment rights by DePaul's administration ought to be questioned.

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