Did DePaul University just admit that it can’t keep its students safe from fellow students who are protesting? Sure seems that way.

Hiding behind student protesters, however, might just be a smoke screen for advancing the school’s own political agenda.

Last week, DePaul informed members of a conservative student organization, Young Americans for Freedom, that they were barred from bringing conservative commentator Ben Shapiro to the Chicago campus to speak. DePaul administrators professed security fears.

Due to “the experiences and security concerns that some other schools have had with Ben Shapiro speaking on their campuses,” an administrator said, “DePaul cannot agree to allow him to speak on campus at this time.”

But those “security concerns” were about boisterous and even violent reactions at other schools from students who disagree with what Shapiro, editor-in-chief of The Daily Wire, has to say. Citing those concerns may be a weak disguise masking DePaul’s own desires to keep conservative speakers away from campus.

Only a couple of months ago, DePaul administrators tried to prevent Milo Yiannopoulos, technology editor at Breitbart News, from giving a talk on campus. The administration made a last-minute change to the terms of its longstanding agreement with the College Republicans, the organization that invited Yiannopoulos, by charging an extraordinary $960 in “security fees.”

As Heritage Foundation scholars previously have noted, such fees place a special burden on small, cash-strapped student groups (not to mention DePaul assessed the fees only against a conservative group) and might reduce the number of events on campus.

Undaunted, DePaul’s College Republicans secured a donation to pay for extra security on that occasion.

Protesters “who tied themselves to the ‘Black Lives Matter’ movement” showed up, took over the stage, and assaulted Yiannopoulos, Michael Sitver wrote in Huffington Post, while university administrators ordered the contracted security and city police officers to “stand passively and watch.”

Perhaps DePaul was afraid of offending Black Lives Matter, and looking politically incorrect. The protesters, exercising a heckler’s veto, were able to shut down the event.

Afterward, DePaul’s president, the Rev. Dennis Holtschneider, purported to apologize by email to the College Republicans. But Holtschneider made sure to include his opinion of Yiannopoulos and other speakers of his “ilk,” whom he referred to as “self-serving provocateurs” whose “shtick” is “unworthy of university discourse.”

The Rev. Dennis Holtschneider, president of DePaul University. (Photo: Dennis Holtschneider Facebook)

The Rev. Dennis Holtschneider, president of DePaul University. (Photo: Dennis Holtschneider Facebook)

Meanwhile, DePaul is more than happy to host controversial liberal speakers and events, such as a fundraiser for Rasmea Odeh, a convicted terrorist.

By banning Shapiro from speaking because of the threat of a protest, DePaul’s administration is siding with students who disagree with his viewpoint rather than standing up to potential violence on campus.

DePaul also is teaching its students not to engage in the “open discourse” the university purports to foster. It is showing them that they can silence opposing views with threats of protests and violence.

“After all,” writes Jim DeMint, president of The Heritage Foundation, “the easiest way to win an argument is to tape your opponent’s mouth shut. Too many educators today think this is a good idea.”

As a private institution, DePaul is not held to the same First Amendment standards as public universities.

Kelly Sarabyn, a former fellow at the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, argues that, nonetheless, the “longstanding purpose of the liberal arts and research universities is realized through free speech on campus, and students, faculty, and donors reasonably expect it to prevail.”

Those groups may yet persuade universities to stand behind their commitments to free speech through advocacy and donations. If such efforts prove unsuccessful, perhaps courts could be persuaded, as Sarabyn argues they should be, to compel private schools to honor any express commitments to prospective students to honor free speech on campus—on the ground that students are enticed by and rely upon those commitments when choosing which schools to attend.

Given the university president’s open animosity to speakers such as Yiannopoulos, the Shapiro incident raises the real possibility that DePaul administrators are all too happy to have an excuse to prevent students from being exposed to views that compete with their school’s own liberal ideology.

Is it that DePaul administrators can’t keep their students safe and their speaking events secure? Or is it that they refuse to do so because citing “security concerns” to prevent conservative speakers from appearing on campus actually furthers their own ideological aims?