Student panel highlights the criminalization of education at DePauw University

Four days after successfully completing a required course assignment on April 5, 2024, one student was contacted by DePauw University’s Chief of Police requesting a meeting to discuss “the posting of signs in Harrison Hall.” The police had surveillance recordings of the student, a Black woman, placing letter-size flyers on various tables throughout the first and second floors of Harrison Hall.

No other students were questioned by police during the “investigation,” although one other student was questioned on an unrelated matter. However, most of the remaining class was sent to community standards and received various “sanctions” for violating the student code of conduct. Two students only received an informal, verbal reprimand.

Despite putting their name, title, and information above the primary area where the posters appeared, the police never contacted the students’ teacher, Derek Ford, who is Associate Professor and Chair of Education Studies and Director of Peace and Conflict Studies. The university denied his attempts to take responsibility for the project, none of which created any damage or extra work for janitorial staff, according to an unnamed source, even though a Student Affairs official claimed otherwise.

The entire university was and is outraged, as this kind of disciplinary action is unprecedented and many view it as an attack on free speech, one that can’t be separated from the repression of pro-Palestinian student activism. As reported in The DePauw, the students believe “their materials were specifically taken down due to their critiques against the School of Business and Leadership and the administration.”

In response, the class hosted a student-organized forum to tell their experiences and share the truth about what happened and to answer questions (including one from an administrator who tried blaming the students for an anti-choice banner placed on campus). Facilitated by the Democratic Socialists of DePauw, the panel shows the students not only learned about but lived the history of U.S. higher education, although this was not taken into account during their punishment.

Watch the student-run panel

For those interested, the language of the assignment is as follows:

“This past section of the course has turned explicitly to our current educational setting: the U.S. university. We’ve studied the university broadly as a place where social and economic relations are produced and reproduced and examined a specific current embodiment of the university: the School of Business/Management. We viewed the U.S. university through the prism of “minority difference” and its relationship to student revolt, as well as its ability to absorb and therefore defeat such revolts. Now we’re viewing it through the prism of a long-time Business School professor who critiques not only the “university as business” model but extends that critique to all of society. With these and other topics in mind, we continue in our own setting to read and intervene in the university’s relationship to [Roderick] Ferguson and [Martin] Parker.

Working alone or, if you wish, with one other student, you’re going to stage a public intervention at DePauw University that aligns with our course content. Your intervention can be minor (in which case you should figure out a way to call attention to it), but it has to work to expose and challenge something we don’t notice or take for granted. By calling attention to what we don’t attend to, your intervention will “shock” people to get them thinking critically about the space and/or time in which you intervene. Then, you’ll write a short paper explaining your intervention by bringing in concepts from Ferguson and Parker. The best papers will synthesize the books together in a unique way. Further, the paper will identify the pedagogical logic at work in your intervention. Your paper will be 500-800 words (and all I need is your name(s) at the top) and will be e-mailed to me as an attached Microsoft Word document.

Featured photo: A student project, or a “crime” that DePauw police couldn’t solve despite overwhelming presence of surveillance cameras. Credit: Indianapolis Liberation Center.