Administrators at DePaul University physically prevented conservative pundit Ben Shapiro from speaking at a planned event on campus. The DePaul University chapter of Young Americans for Freedom (YAF) had invited Shapiro to give a presentation, but university administrators informed the group that Shapiro would not be permitted to appear due to “security concerns” and because his appearance would not “substantially contribute” to campus discourse. The YAF sent an open letter to the university rejecting what it considered to be censorship and invited Shapiro to speak nonetheless. Prevented from speaking by university administrators, Shapiro was forced to move the event to an off-campus venue.
Ben Shapiro is a conservative commentator who has served as editor-in-chief of the Daily Wire and editor-at-large of Breitbart News. In 2016, Shapiro spoke to students at numerous universities on a tour that was financially supported by the conservative student organization Young America’s Foundation (YAF). Shapiro’s tour had the intention of “invading campus ‘safe spaces,’” according to the Daily Wire’s press release.
Bob Janis, vice president of facilities at DePaul University, told YAF in an email that the university would not be able to accommodate an appearance by Shapiro, referencing controversies and sometimes violent protests that had occurred on other campuses where Shapiro had spoken.
The DePaul University chapter of YAF, a nationwide conservative student group, had invited Shapiro to speak on campus and wrote an open letter rejecting the University’s ban on controversial speakers.
The DePaul University College Republicans and the university’s chapter of Young Americans for Freedom invited Shapiro to come to Chicago to give a public lecture about Free Speech issues on college campuses. Shapiro was scheduled to speak alongside Christina Hoff Sommers, a resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute (AEI), a conservative think tank. Prior to joining AEI to study the politics of gender and feminism, Sommers was a professor of philosophy at Clark University in Worcester, MA.
Shapiro’s visit to campus came shortly after conservative activist Milo Yiannopolous spoke at DePaul, an event that drew condemnation from students and was interrupted by protesters. DePaul President Dennis H. Holtschneider later admitted that he had made the wrong choice in allowing students who disagreed with Yiannopolous essentially to silence the guest speaker through their disruptive actions. He later resigned from his position as president. In a letter to DePaul’s faculty after his resignation, Holtschneider did not specifically mention the controversy surrounding Yiannopolous, but wrote that “it’s best for DePaul if I step down.”
In August 2016, DePaul’s YAF chapter invited Shapiro to speak on campus in November, but university administrator Bob Janis informed the group by email that Shapiro’s visit to campus could not take place, writing, “Given the experiences and security concerns that some other schools have had with Ben Shapiro speaking on their campuses, DePaul cannot agree to allow him to speak on our campus at this time.”
In November 2016, DePaul University’s YAF chapter once again invited Shapiro, this time publishing an open letter to the administration explaining its invitation and its decision to defy the university’s ban on Shapiro’s appearance. The letter stated, in part, “There is no argument to be made that Ben Shapiro does not substantively contribute to this crucial dialogue. Therefore, DePaul YAF is excited to announce that on Tuesday, November 15, alongside Christina Hoff Sommers, Ben Shapiro will be speaking on our campus in Cortelyou Commons at 5:00 PM.”
When the time came for Shapiro’s presentation, campus police officers physically prevented him from entering the building where the event was to take place. During a brief verbal altercation, Shapiro asked campus police officers and administrators if they were barring his efforts to speak freely and express himself, an allegation that administrators denied. Unable to enter the building where the event had been scheduled, Shapiro went instead to a local off-campus theatre space and called the cellphone of Sommers, who at the time was on stage at the original venue. He invited Sommers and the audience at the on-campus venue to join him off-campus in order to continue their discussion.
The substitute event, which took place off-campus, garnered a significant crowd and necessitated an overflow site in an adjacent room.
Shapiro Speaks Off-Campus
Ben Shapiro, joined by Christina Hoff Sommers and a large student audience, spoke at an off-campus venue after being prevented from entering the room on campus where YAF had invited him to appear.
Prepared by Jack Lynch ‘18
August 22, 2017