By Blake Neff
The president of DePaul University announced Monday he is resigning from his post, after enduring weeks of attacks for how he handled a visit by conservative speaker Milo Yiannopoulos.
Rev. Dennis Holtschneider, a Vincentian Catholic priest, says his decision to step down was made months ago, but it’s difficult to ignore the potential influence the backlash over the Yiannopoulos event had on his choice.
Yiannopoulos, a writer for Breitbart who has been visiting college campuses across the country as part of his “Dangerous Faggot Tour,” made a scheduled visit to DePaul May 24, where the situation rapidly got out of hand. Just a few minutes into the event, a group of Black Lives Matter protesters stormed the stage and refused to leave, eventually forcing the suspension of the event. Later, supporters and critics of Yiannopoulos clashed outside in an environment many compared to a riot.
DePaul recieved a great deal of negative publicity for what happened; and even now its Facebook page is inundated with critical comments and negative reviews.
Holtschneider was overseas in France during Yiannopoulos’ visit. The day after, he released a short statement, condemning Yiannopoulos’ rhetoric while also criticizing protesters for acting to silence him.
But this apology rapidly resulted in aggressive criticism of Holtschneider himself. The school was faulted for requiring the College Republicans to pay an extra fee for security, only to have that security do nothing to stop protesters. Holtschneider was criticized for offering only a lukewarm apology, which even compared the protesters to American soldiers who attacked Normandy on D-Day.
Meanwhile, supporters of Black Lives Matter argued that by defending the College Republicans’ right to invite Yiannopoulos, Holtschneider was championing hate speech.
In a June 2 letter to the student newspaper, The DePaulia, demanding Holtschneider’s resignation, DePaul law professor Terry Smith said that protesters who hijacked the Yiannopoulos evets were simply engaging in free speech, while also saying those rights did not extend to Yiannopoulos’ appearance because his opinions were unacceptable.
“Under the guise of free speech, the President rejected calls to disallow Yiannopoulos’ appearance on campus, although from the inception of the controversy Holtschneider knew that the speaker was ‘unworthy of university discourse,’” Smith said. “That the president of a major American university could harbor such an incoherent conception of free speech is both shocking and embarrassing; that he would then blame the subjects of Yiannopoulos’ hate speech for asserting their own free speech rights is unconscionable.”
Holtschneider made an additional apology in early June, and announced various efforts to improve diversity on campus, but it did little to quiet his critics.
Holtschneider plans to stay on as president until the summer of 2017, but his departure will still be two years earlier than previously planned.
“It’s best for DePaul if I step aside in the summer of 2017 so that a new leader can assist the institution to name and ambitiously pursue its next set of strategic objectives,” Holtschneider said in the campus-wide email announcing his resignation.
Smith praised Holtschneider’s resignation as an act of “leadership,” but said it was only the beginning of the changes black students at DePaul hoped to achieve.
“His decision … should not be used as an excuse to slow-walk or ignore the demands set forth by the university’s black community,” Smith told the DePaulia.