University of Illinois Chicago: Investigation into Professor for Referencing Racial Slur on Law Exam


University of Illinois Chicago

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Case Overview


In December 2020, Jason Kilborn, a professor of law, included in a Civil Procedure II final exam a hypothetical fact pattern involving an employment discrimination case. The hypothetical referenced “profane expressions for African Americans and women,” identified as expurgated text (“‘n_____’ and ‘b_____’”). After the question was condemned by students, the law school issued a public statement that it was conducting a “thorough review” of the matter.  On January 19, 2021, FIRE wrote to UIC explaining that Kilborn’s hypothetical is protected by academic freedom and the First Amendment, and calling for UIC to make clear it would not investigate or punish Kilborn, then later provided Kilborn free legal counsel through FIRE’s Faculty Legal Defense Fund. 

UIC appeared to resolve the case during summer of 2021 by imposing minimal requirements on Kilborn and allowing him to return to the classroom in Spring 2022 after his Fall 2021 sabbatical ended. However, it later reneged on that resolution in late 2021 in reaction to renewed student protest after Kilborn appeared on the class schedule for the upcoming semester. Despite the parties’ prior agreement that Kilborn would not be subject to diversity or sensitivity training unless future incidents arose, UIC suspended him again, removing him from his Spring 2022 classes, and unilaterally required extensive “individualized training” before Kilborn could return to the classroom.

On January 27, 2022, Kilborn filed a First Amendment suit against UIC through his FLDF attorney for the repeated violation of his rights. The lawsuit seeks a court order to stop UIC from enforcing its training mandate, as well as compensatory and punitive damages for that and the other unconstitutional harms inflicted by UIC. Kilborn amended the lawsuit to add additional claims through his own attorney, and is no longer represented by an FLDF attorney.