CHICAGO, May 18, 2005—DePaul University administrators have suspended Professor Thomas Klocek without a hearing after he engaged in an out-of-class argument with pro-Palestinian students at a student activities fair. When the students complained to administrators, Klocek was denied the rights that DePaul guarantees to professors accused of wrongdoing and immediately suspended. Statements from DePaul administrators indicate that Klocek was disciplined because of his harsh criticism of the students’ viewpoint, despite DePaul’s stated commitments to free speech and academic freedom.
“DePaul has unquestionably violated Professor Klocek’s due process rights, and the university did so because his statements were allegedly offensive,” commented David French, president of the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE), which wrote to DePaul on Klocek’s behalf.
The incident in question occurred on September 15, 2004, when Professor Klocek engaged in conversation with students representing Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) and United Muslims Moving Ahead (UMMA). According to the DePaulia student newspaper and other sources, during the debate, Klocek cited a Chicago Sun-Times article that quoted the general manager of the Al-Arabiya television network as saying, “It is a certain fact that not all Muslims are terrorists, but it is equally certain, and exceptionally painful, that almost all terrorists are Muslims.” A heated but strictly verbal argument ensued during which Klocek argued that a Christian viewpoint, in addition to Muslim or Jewish ones, should be considered in discussing Israel and Palestine. According to Klocek, SJP and UMMA students (several of whom had gathered around Professor Klocek) made their own controversial statements comparing Israeli Jews to Nazis. The argument concluded when Klocek walked away from the SJP and UMMA tables and thumbed his chin at the students in what he believed to be an Italian hand gesture meaning “I’m outta here.”
The offended students complained to DePaul administrators, who moved quickly to punish Professor Klocek for his part in the argument. Klocek reports that on September 24, 2004, Dean of the School of New Learning Susanne Dumbleton informed him that the university had received letters of complaint from SJP and UMMA students and had met with the students and their faculty advisors the previous evening. Dumbleton immediately suspended Klocek with pay and ordered him to stay off campus. Klocek was never given a copy of the complaint letters, nor was he given a hearing or any other chance to face his accusers before his suspension.
In an October 8 letter to the DePaulia about the university’s actions, Dumbleton explained, “The students’ perspective was dishonored and their freedom demeaned. Individuals were deeply insulted…. Our college acted immediately by removing the instructor from the classroom.” Dumbleton also made several other comments indicating that DePaul was primarily concerned with the content of Klocek’s remarks. On November 10, Klocek finally received a letter confirming his punishment and stating that he would be able to teach only one class the following semester, and that the class would be subject to observation.
Klocek’s suspension violated DePaul’s own policies guaranteeing academic freedom as well as its contractual promises of basic due process. Klocek was suspended without a hearing, which DePaul policies say can only be done in an “emergency.” Though DePaul now claims that the argument created the “emergency” conditions necessary for an immediate suspension, the university waited a full nine days before acting against Klocek—hardly the response of a school in the grip of an “emergency” situation.
“If DePaul professors aren’t worried about this situation, they should be,” remarked Greg Lukianoff, FIRE’s director of legal and public advocacy. “Due process is most important in cases like Klocek’s in which facts need to be sorted through and in which punishment can be severe and career-ending. By refusing Professor Klocek a hearing at such a crucial juncture, DePaul threw its stated commitments to basic procedural rights out the window and missed an opportunity to discover what actually took place.”
On March 24, 2005, FIRE wrote DePaul’s president, Rev. Dennis H. Holtschneider, on Professor Klocek’s behalf. FIRE asked the university to honor its own commitments and reminded DePaul that “[i]f every person had the power to punish those who expressed ideas they found offensive, we would all soon be reduced to silence.” President Holtschneider responded, saying this was not a matter of academic freedom and that “the university acted to address threatening and unprofessional behavior.” He also noted that Klocek had refused to pursue the university’s grievance process. This response contradicts Dean Dumbleton’s original justification for the school’s punishment. Furthermore, the grievance process available to Professor Klocek does not have the authority to restore his position.
FIRE’s French remarked, “While DePaul may now argue that the issue is one of professionalism, its public statements at the time of Klocek’s punishment make it clear that Klocek’s real crime was offending students during an out-of-class discussion of a controversial and emotional topic. Academic freedom cannot survive when professors who engage in debate on controversial topics are subject to administrative punishment without even the most cursory due process.”
FIRE is a nonprofit educational foundation that unites civil rights and civil liberties leaders, scholars, journalists, and public intellectuals from across the political and ideological spectrum on behalf of individual rights, due process, freedom of expression, academic freedom, and rights of conscience at our nation’s colleges and universities. FIRE’s efforts to preserve liberty on campuses across America can be viewed at thefire.org.
David French, President, FIRE: 215-717-3473; firstname.lastname@example.org
Greg Lukianoff, Director of Legal and Public Advocacy, FIRE: 215-717-3473; email@example.com
Tom Ciesielka, President, TC Public Relations: 312-422-1333; firstname.lastname@example.org
Rev. Dennis H. Holtschneider, President, DePaul University: 312-362-8000; email@example.com