Campus Reform | Faculty members stand up for 'diversity of opinions,' criticize students' cancel culture outrage

Faculty members stand up for 'diversity of opinions,' criticize students' cancel culture outrage

DePaul U student editors called on the university to disinvite a Chicago Tribune columnist from a panel event because he 'contributes to racist ideologies.'

Despite a public defense from faculty members, Zorn excused himself from the event as he feared it would turn into a 'boisterous dogpiling' after the sponsoring organization disassociated itself from the panel.

Faculty members at DePaul University stood up for free speech this semester after two editors for the DePaul University student newspaper, The DePaulia, wrote an opinion piece calling on the university to disinvite former Chicago Tribune columnist Eric Zorn

Zorn, who has written critically on issues connected to the Black Lives Matter movement, was slated to speak at a “Tough Times for Local Journalism” panel event co-sponsored by the university's Society of Professional Journalists (SPJ) chapter.

“DePaul’s journalism department needs to rethink their selection and drop Zorn from the panel. Ultimately, this decision to invite Zorn should not have been made,” the student editors wrote September 26.

Directors for the DePaul Center for Journalism Integrity & Excellence Carol Marin and Don Moseley responded to The DePaulia editors with the article, “Letter to the Editor: Why Eric Zorn should be heard at DePaul.”

“Among the things we admire and respect about journalism is the ability (and responsibility) to talk to and listen to a wide variety of voices with a diversity of opinions.  As reporters and columnists, that is what we do. Or what we are supposed to do,” the directors wrote September 28. 

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Two days prior, The DePaulia editors had cited Zorn’s April 2021 column, “Let’s wait before turning slain 13-year-old Adam Toledo into a martyr,” about the teenager who was shot by a police officer in March, as the reason he should be disinvited from the event. 

“Describing Toledo in this way is unsettling because no matter what decisions he made in life, whether good or bad, he was ultimately a child. Treating him with the same scrutiny as an adult is an insensitive take that nobody asked for,” the editors wrote.

Pointing to Zorn’s statements in his column that Toledo was “not a ‘baby’” and “a 13-year-old pointing a gun, if that’s what he did, is as dangerous as a 23- or 33-year-old, maybe even more dangerous given what we know about the lack of judgment and impulse control in adolescents,” the editors argued that the columnist “contributes to racist ideologies.”

Zorn characterized these accusations as “false and toxic” in a Substack article.

Though the SPJ initially recommended that students who disagree with Zorn should attend the event and air their grievances to Zorn directly, the organization later announced September 29 that it would no longer sponsor the event “due to concerns voiced from within and outside our organization.”

“SPJ DePaul does not agree with or support the sentiments Eric Zorn expressed in his April 6 column on the death of Adam Toledo. Had we known in advance that Zorn was going to be invited as a panelist, we would not have agreed to co-host this event,” the statement reads.

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Three days earlier, the DePaulia editors had advocated that the university should hire more “journalists of color” so that “they could have been consulted prior to selecting Zorn and this situation may have been avoided.”

“If the university and its journalism department genuinely cared for its students, especially its marginalized students, they would make the Vincentian decision to drop Zorn from next week’s panel and hire more faculty of color,” the editors wrote. 

As a result, Marin and Moseley stated in their letter that Zorn is “neither a racist nor a contributor to ideologies of hate,” pointing out that the editors' failure to mention Zorn’s column that expressed his “regret” for the “analytical tone” he took in his Toledo article.

The directors did reveal that, because of the backlash, Zorn ultimately decided to decline the invitation to speak at the panel event. 

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“In recent days I learned that some of those in attendance would like to turn this into a forum to protest some of my columns pertaining to the justice system, and I concluded that my presence here would distract from the agenda and be unfair to my friends on the panel,” Zorn informed the directors. 

“And while I stand ready to discuss my body of work, what I wasn’t willing to do — what I chose not to do this week — was to risk turning a forum about the future of local journalism into a platform for the sort of boisterous dogpiling we’ve seen before at DePaul,” Zorn likewise stated in his Substack article.

Zorn continued by stating in his article that it is “beyond troubling that the expression of opinions that may differ from the opinions of certain students or even the majority of students ought to bar someone from speaking on campus on any subject whatsoever.”

“The inability of the intolerant to distinguish between poisonous hate speech and differences of opinion, tone or emphasis is troubling and it’s hardly limited to this one minor example of attempted cancellation,” Zorn stated.

DePaul University did not respond to Campus Reform’s request for comment.