The culture at DePaul University is either simply confused or genuinely dishonest. From banning conservative Ben Shapiro in November 2016, to preemptively withdrawing an invitation to conservative comedian Steven Crowder last week, the state of this university is in disarray. It’s evident that despite the school’s stated intentions to foster diversity and rigorous thought, this is a place for a one-sided, lackluster education at best. There is little exchange in the free marketplace of ideas, as far as hosting speakers is concerned. I should know; I am a student there.
For a few years now, I have observed a disturbing trend of banning speakers that the university claims do not fall in line with their “mission statement.” This was their rationale most recently with Steven Crowder. It had been a few years since I read the mission statement, so I cracked it open and perused its contents.
Among other things, the university claims in their mission statement that, “It treasures its deep roots in the wisdom nourished in Catholic universities from medieval times… [I]t endorses critical moral thinking and scholarship founded on moral principles.” There’s just one problem with this statement: it’s false.
Now, to suggest that DePaul University and its administration doesn’t know the history on which their institution was founded would be silly; yet we should never assume, so here it goes. The idea that DePaul is a modern torch-bearer for the wisdom attained through the practice of rigorous debate that was passed down through the ages as St. Thomas Aquinas would’ve engaged in, is beyond parody.
For sure, there have been many great religious thinkers throughout history. Aquinas, the medieval Catholic philosopher who came up with the 5 ways for the existence of God, is one the greats. He sharpened his arguments as a truly educated scholar would: through writing and debate by building his opponents’ arguments up to be as strong as he could possibly make them. Aquinas also brought Aristotle into the western canon after over 1,000 years of absence. We are indebted to Aquinas alone for this great contribution to the West and its culture.
Now take the Summa Theologica, Aquinas’s magnum opus, for example. This is a work that provides a logical explanation for the existence of God, crafted in Aristotelian logic. If one were to read the Summa (all 3,500 pages), you would find the format of the work is not in chapters, but a series of worthwhile questions to be asked, along with corresponding answers.
In other words, Aquinas took arguments that other people made (other great scholars, including the great Jewish philosopher Maimonides and Muslim philosopher Averroes) and picked apart what he liked about them, and what he did not like. He first needed to be aware of these various questions, and think critically about them to create his own giant ideas.
And this is the point, if you jump forward to the present, you would find the opposite of Aquinas’s approach: reinforcement of a single set of opinions. What you would find on DePaul’s campus is that even the most rudimentary opportunity for critical thinking- hearing somebody speak at an event- is being stolen from the students under the guise of protecting them from provocative material, in the case of Shapiro and Crowder. Even if their content is deemed provocative, no young adult is done any good by shielding them from the opportunity to study what the speaker’s convictions are, on their own merits.
So what is going on here is a functionally secular, leftist institution masquerading as a truthful, religious one. The university suggests to its students that it upholds “Vincentian values” of inclusion and love, whilst the administration greenlights fundraising for convicted anti-Israel terrorist and murderer Rasmea Odeh. The university proclaims itself as inclusive and tolerant, whilst it banishes people like Steven Crowder, whose thoughts are well within the mainstream of public opinion and certainly not dangerous.
The university’s moral posturing and milquetoast rationale for banning speakers is getting old. Students these days are starving for a true exchange of ideas. According to a Gallup poll from 2016, 78% of college students believe we need an open environment where students are exposed to all types of speech and viewpoints.
The bottom line is this: it’s not easy or comfortable to hear opinions with which one may disagree. In fact, it’s normally difficult to work through different opinions. It means you’re probably feeling uncomfortable while diligently striving to discover objective truth. This is how great thinkers, like Aquinas, crafted their arguments.
The fact that DePaul abdicates their duty to help students get closer to the truth and form their own opinions, is not maintaining their tradition of medieval Catholic critical thinking, and it certainly isn’t moral. It’s making people more tribal and less tolerant. It’s part and parcel of the reason why we are in some ways fragmented as a society.
Yet, there is hope for the future. We’re living in the most prosperous society, in the most comfortable time in all of humanity. We’ve been given a great gift just to be living where and when we are today. There is great potential to unite as a people, and thrive as autonomous, free-thinking individuals.
So if DePaul wants to do its part in this endeavor, a good place to start would be to open up the marketplace of ideas. And may the best ideas win.
The views expressed in this article are the opinion of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Lone Conservative staff.