DePaul University Says No to Pro-Marijuana-Legalization Group

The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education has the details. The university admits that it is excluding the group from generally available student group registration benefits, because the university disapproves of the group’s message:

Considerable research indicates the use of cannabis does not contribute to healthy decision-making, particularly in college-age populations. Given the above, the University determined that recognizing the “Students for Cannabis Policy Reform Group” as a DePaul student organization would not be congruent with our institutional goals regarding the health and well-being of our students.

I rather doubt that recognizing such a group would materially affect the level of marijuana use by DePaul students. But denying recognition would affect the amount of debate about marijuana policy that takes place. Sounds like unhealthy decision-making on the university’s part to me.

DePaul is a private university, so it’s free to engage in unhealthy decision-making. But excluding the expression of some views from the very broadly open student group recognition program, it seems to me, is the gateway drug to broader restrictions as well, restrictions that are even more dangerous to the culture of debate and discussion that universities, private and public, ought to be promoting. DePaul itself has officially stated, in its Guiding Principles on Speech and Expression that it is “committed to fostering a community that welcomes open discourse.” And while that document seems to suggest that DePaul’s Catholic mission may support some restrictions aimed at protecting “dignity,” “respect,” and “civility,” I don’t see anything in that statement that justifies discrimination against student speech that promotes legalization of marijuana. So I’m glad that FIRE is taking DePaul to task for its position.

Finally, DePaul’s letter suggests that denying recognition to the student group would still leave open “myriad opportunities for students to gather together and express their views to the larger community regarding the use of and/or legalization of cannabis.” But if indeed the group will be able to speak as effectively without the benefits of recognition, then I don’t see how the university’s action will further its stated goals. And if the university’s action will somehow diminish the amount of speech that might promote “[un]healthy decision-making,” then that must mean that the university hopes the group will not speak as effectively without the benefits of recognition.

UPDATE: I originally characterized DePaul’s actions, in the second sentence of the paragraph that starts with “DePaul is a private university,” as “banning the expression of some views.” This was intended as shorthand for the exclusion of the views from the benefit program; but, as commenter neurodoc pointed out, that is not accurate, as the last paragraph of this post makes clear. I’ve therefore corrected the post.

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