I will not attempt to recap the whole controversy. You can read the coverage in DePaul's student newspaper here, here, here, and here. Instead, this is a series of thoughts about the event itself and about what it might say about DePaul and academia generally these days.
But they had the right to be stupid. With the above point noted, it was certainly their right to bring Yiannopoulos to campus, and to waste their money in doing so. My DePaul colleague Scott Paeth speculates about whether Yiannopoulos crosses the line into speech that DePaul would have the right to ban as a private university. (Again, this is not a 1st Amendment issue; it is an issue of a private university allowing the use of its resources for an outside speaker).
I see the point, but then there is this: Yiannopoulos offers little original thought beyond repeating standard Republican/Trump orthodoxy. So, whether good or bad, he effectively represents the mainstream of one of America's two major political parties in this day and age. That is a good argument about how intellectually decayed the Republican Party is, but it also weakens the case for banning a speaker like him from campus. There is also the fact that feminism, 'microaggressions,' and the like are ideas with serious intellectual currency on campus today; even if it is uncomfortable for some, a responsible university has to allow them to be challenged--even in unpleasant ways.
What should the protesters have done? A far wiser alternative would have been simply to ignore the event as the unoriginal spectacle that it was and let it be an 'echo chamber' of DePaul's Republican student population and a few curious onlookers. If they had really wished to stage an effective response, handing fliers outside the Student Center entrance explaining why his ideas are flawed or misleading would have been far better. Instead, it is very hard to argue with Republicans' claims that they shut down the event because they were scared of its message.
That said, the outrage directed towards University President Dennis Holtschneider is wide of the mark. Aside from the fact that he was not physically present and in charge of what happened that evening, his response in a campus email struck the right tone. The outrage from outside right-wing groups is mostly about scoring points, while the outrage from on-campus left-wing groups is misguided. Bringing me to...
My biggest concern about ideas of 'microaggressions,' 'safe spaces,' and the like is the infantilizing effect it has upon students. I think we see that in the response to events like this. Students do not need 'protection' from words. Instead, they need empowerment to tackle those words head-on and defeat them with their own ideas.
The extremes on both sides find fulfillment from this 'outrage dance.' In many respects, this whole controversy was like a perfectly orchestrated event. College Republicans, as a minority on the DePaul campus, arrange a deliberately provocative event. (A few years ago, 'affirmative action bake sales' were all the rage). The 'provoked' minority groups, drawing on the language of 'safe spaces,' demand that the event be censored and respond with outrage. Either the event being censored or the angry response of the targeted groups allows the College Republicans to claim 'free-speech martyrdom.' The targeted groups argue that the event shows what a threatening on-campus environment they face and demand remediation: a new speech code, added sensitivity/diversity training, etc.
All of this goes hand-in-hand with administrative bloat. University administrations, eager to avoid damaging controversies, are all too happy to respond to these controversies by creating new offices of inclusion, mandating new training/courses for students and staff, and hiring more administrative personnel to ensure that everybody gets along. Of course, the cost of all that is measured in students' tuition dollars and departments' lost faculty lines. And, in many cases, these newly-hired personnel tend to indulge the worst tendencies in students; any political scientist would recognize that individual and bureaucracies will tend to create activity to justify their continued existence!
But the broader problem here is one of motivated reasoning. As we are all human, we tend to seek out information that reinforces our existing beliefs and identities, and to scrutinize contrary ideas or information more carefully. If we are not careful, this leads us individually and collectively in some problematic directions, where our scholarship and our teaching get caught in an increasingly narrow worldview. Does that lead to conscious efforts to 'punish' or 'censor' conservative students or colleagues? I highly doubt it, and I have never done or witnessed it personally. But it does run the risk of an unconscious process by which certain ideas are dismissed too easily while shoddier ideas that fit with the worldview are accepted.
In short, this controversy should provoke a lot of self-reflection, though I doubt that it will. Almost everybody involved came out looking pretty badly, and I do not think it unfair to say that quite a few who were involved acted with bad intent.
And, to a very real extent, everyone at DePaul has been played for fools by Milo Yiannapoulos. He gained the notoriety and whatever he got paid for the appearance before jetting off to his new appearance, while the DePaul community will be left to figure out what happened. That alone should be cause for reflection among DePaul's College Republicans.