Conservative writer and Editor-in-Chief of the Daily Wire Ben Shapiro faulted DePaul for its supposed inability to “control its own student body” Wednesday in an interview with the DePaulia, only days after the university denied a request from a student group to have the conservative speak this fall on campus due to security concerns.
Shapiro said the university was punishing him as well as other conservative speakers based on the fears that liberal-leaning students would protest and create a safety concern.
“Basically, DePaul has set a new standard: if I say something that offends students and students decide to riot at a different university, then that means I have to be banned at DePaul because DePaul can’t control its own student body,” Shapiro said. “Anytime you don’t want a speaker to come to your campus from now on, presumably, all the DePaul students have to do is threaten to riot.”
In an email to the university’s Joint Council, Associate Vice President for Facilities Bob Janis and Associate Vice President for Student Affairs Eugene Zdziarski wrote “(h)aving reviewed recent reactions to this speaker at other campuses, and in particular his appearance at California State University – Los Angeles, our campus Public Safety department concluded they could not provide sufficient security in the event of a similar situation at DePaul.”
The email added that while many are viewing the situation only through the lenses of free speech, the university looked at it from many viewpoints, most notably safety. According to Janis and Zdziarski, the university has encouraged the student organization, Young Americans for Freedom, to plan for an event because several speakers other than Shapiro have been approved.
Shapiro’s ban comes just months after protests erupted during and after Breitbart editor and self-proclaimed “internet supervillain” Milo Yiannopoulus’ May 25 visit to campus. While private security was hired for the event, they took no action when protesters took over the stage, effectively shutting it down after only 15 minutes.
Eventually, Yiannopoulos and his supporters left the building to march around the Lincoln Park campus, setting up a confrontation with around 100 protesters outside — a security concern the university no doubt would like to avoid in the future.
Following the chaos like everyone else, Shapiro reached out to YAF shortly afterward to offer a connection to a group who had done legal work for him in the past involving security fees. While the university eventually picked up the security cost of the Yiannopoulos event, YAF reached out to Shapiro about possibly speaking in the fall.
As an outsider looking in at the events of May, Shapiro, though no fan of Yiannopoulos or his presidential candidate, Donald Trump, criticized protesters for shutting him down.
“I think that Milo is a provocateur, I think he’s a troll, white supremacist asshole,” Shapiro said. “But, I still have a general rule that you let people speak. And if you can’t deal with people speaking, then you (don’t know) the basic principles of America.
“If the leftist students at DePaul had really wanted to stop Milo Yiannopoulos to from making trouble, they just wouldn’t have shown up,” he said. “The thing that pleases trolls like Milo more than anything else in the world is when leftists show up and make trouble.”
Shapiro, like Yiannopoulos, often speaks on college campuses. While most have gone on with no controversy, Shapiro was met with angry protests at Cal State LA in February, where the topic of discussion was the provocatively-titled “When Diversity Becomes a Problem.”
While Shapiro said the point of the title was to generate interest and spark debate, it upset many in the student body, who protested the event. Subsequently, a fire alarm was pulled and, according to Shapiro, some protesters blocked exits. In the end, the conservative had to be escorted out by police.
It was this reaction that DePaul officials used as a basis to deny Shapiro the opportunity to speak here. This causes Shapiro great concern, saying he doesn’t “like the equation of verbiage and violence.”
“I don’t like the idea that if I say ‘the concept of white privilege is nonsense,’ that it is somehow some sort of microagression that results in violence. I think that’s utterly unsubstantiated,” Shapiro said. “This is not a game that anyone in the United States should want to play. I mean if you want to play this game, then I can easily say that the left’s words about me are violence-causing and bring a squad of goons. I mean this is silly talk.”
He also said, “If Milo or I came in, which I never would, and said, ‘I want people to be beaten up, go out there and beat people up,’ that’s a violation of the law and I’m not allowed to do that. That’s incitement. But if I’m just coming in and saying things that you don’t like and you’re afraid that it’s going to make people that I’m talking to violent, well, tough in the sense that unless you have some type of Minority Report future vision, I don’t know how you can tell that what I’m saying is making anybody violent. I mean there’s certainly no history.”
In the wake of the decision, reaction has been pouring in from several groups in the university community. Many, even liberal groups, have criticized DePaul for an “overreaction” to the events of the past few months and the possible ramifications for free speech on campus.
In a statement, the DePaul College Democrats executive board wrote: “DePaul University’s decision to disallow conservative commentator Ben Shapiro represents a misguided attempt to deal with a campus that is still healing from the hate and uproar caused by the Milo event last spring. Ben Shapiro represents a strong, controversial voice in the conservative community” and “while we would be hard pressed to find common ground with Mr. Shapiro, our democracy demands that we listen to what he has to say.”
For their part, YAF has sent an email to faculty and staff urging them to sign a petition to support a reversal of the university’s decision.
“This is supposed to be a university that, whether one is liberal or conservative, Republican or Democrat, will hear people out and seek to discuss and explore the issues of the day through a variety of unique perspectives,” the group wrote in the email.
While criticism of the university’s decision was bipartisan, another debate over guidelines for prospective speakers led to some differing views. Some, including members of the student body and faculty, believe that set guidelines for reviewing the academic value of such speakers should be established before denying speakers.
Under such regulations, university Democrats, for instance, believe Shapiro would have been approved and Yiannopoulos denied. Shapiro does not agree with this line of thinking, however, suggesting that there will never be a completely fair way to judge the merit of a speaker.
“It’s very difficult I think to create a standard that’s not somewhat arbitrary and subjective as far as what’s meritorious and what’s not,” Shapiro said. “What I think is meritorious is not what people on the other side are going think is meritorious, which is why my basic policy is that whoever wants to speak can come speak and I think if you don’t want them to speak, then don’t show up.”
Still, despite his disagreement with the premise of restricting speakers, Shapiro said he does not understand why he wouldn’t stand up to such a test, especially in the context of previous speakers on the university’s campus.
“That’s what makes this whole thing a little shocking,” Shapiro said. “I’m a free speech for everybody guy, but even if you hold by the standard that the campus left seems to be using — that if you speak particularly egregiously — then you ought to be banned from campus, I’m not sure why I fall into that category … I’m not the one writing defenses of white supremacists on Breitbart, I’m not Rasmea Odeh – I’m not a convicted Palestinian terrorist.”
While there’s no current indication that the university will reverse its decision, Shapiro said he’d still be happy to speak at DePaul.
“I don’t cross people off my list, people cross me off their lists,” Shapiro said. “I’m always happy to speak with everybody. If you’ve ever watched any of my lectures, I specifically solicit people who disagree to come up to the microphone first. It’s more fun, it’s more interesting.”