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October 20, 2010 10:00 AM DePaul’s Pot Problem

By Daniel Luzer

Pot1.jpg

Chicago’s DePaul University is apparently rather hostile to certain campus groups, especially if those groups have anything to do with marijuana. According to the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE):

In the spring of 2010, DePaul student Jeff Kramer and fellow students submitted an application for official recognition of their group, Students for Cannabis Policy Reform. Official recognition gives a group access to 17 different benefits including “Involvement Fair Participation,” posting pre-approved flyers of certain types on designated bulletin boards, and room reservation privileges. Full “registration” grants a group two additional benefits, including access to Student Activity Fee funding.

DePaul was not prepared to grant the group any recognition.

Now at most colleges official recognition of campus groups lies within the power of student government. Students elected to campus positions vote to acknowledge student clubs. Recognized clubs can take advantage of campus funding, money that generally comes from the student activity fee.

This is apparently not the case at De Paul, where the right to recognize university clubs is solely vested in the school’s administration, which means the school can approve or disapprove of clubs at it sees fit. As FIRE explains:

DePaul held up Kramer’s application for several months. Finally, on September 15, 2010, Director of Student Life Suzanne Kilgannon denied recognition to the group, stating, “Despite our best arguments, our vice president feels very strongly that having an approved group on campus would send an institutional message that he believes we are not prepared to manage.”

FIRE maintains that the DePaul decision is troublesome because it appears to violate the school’s free speech policies. According to DePaul, “Students have the right to their own ideas, beliefs and political associations.”

Good point. Also, let’s put this in perspective. DePaul administrator James Doyle explains his institution’s decision:

The University plays a role in education students about safe decision-making around issues of health and wellness. Considerable research indicates that 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.

Oh for God’s sake. It’s marijuana. Not heroin. Pot is practically legal in like a dozen U.S. states.

While Doyle’s desire to protect the health and wellbeing of his institution’s students is creditable, if patronizing, the true explanation for the decision probably has more to do with Kilgannon’s point about how DePaul is not prepared to manage the “institutional message.”

Really, you can’t manage a marijuana policy change message, from a group of college students? This seems to speak more to the university’s incompetence than to any desire to guard the precious health of its students. [Image via]

Daniel Luzer is the news editor at Governing Magazine and former web editor of the Washington Monthly. Find him on Twitter: @Daniel_Luzer