CHICAGO, March 20, 2015—A former high-level administrator at Chicago State University alleged in a statement filed yesterday in federal court that Chicago State President Wayne Watson pressured her to file a false sexual harassment complaint against Professor Phillip Beverly, an outspoken faculty critic of Watson’s administration.
According to the declaration of former Chicago State Vice President for Enrollment Management LaShondra Peebles, Watson was determined to silence Beverly by shutting down the blog, CSU Faculty Voice, which Beverly had founded. Contributors routinely posted documents that supported their allegations of mismanagement by the administration.
After pretextual accusations of trademark infringement failed to intimidate the professors into shutting down their blog, Chicago State hastily adopted a far-reaching cyberbullying policy on May 9, 2014. Ms. Peebles’s declaration alleges that the policy was expressly designed to silence CSU Faculty Voice. In fact, shortly after the Board of Trustees passed the new policy, administrators used it to investigate Professor Robert Bionaz, another blog contributor, for harassment. The investigation was based, inexplicably, on a face-to-face conversation he had with Chicago State’s spokesman.
Watson’s series of actions eventually prompted Beverly and Bionaz to file a First Amendment lawsuit against Watson and others in July 2014. The suit was filed with support from the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) as part of its Stand Up For Speech Litigation Project.
“The Chicago State administration has repeatedly demonstrated its willingness to go to remarkable lengths to suppress dissent on campus,” said FIRE President and CEO Greg Lukianoff. “Between the bogus accusations of trademark infringement, the misuse of university policy, and now new revelations that staff were perhaps pressured to file false harassment complaints, the court should take these allegations very seriously. Chicago State’s repeated attempts to shred the Constitution must end.”
Watson’s campaign against Beverly and Bionaz led the professors to ask the court to prohibit Chicago State from enforcing its unconstitutional policies against them while the case is pending. Peebles’s declaration further demonstrates that their request to the court to take immediate action is fully justified.
Peebles was fired on June 2, 2014. On February 18, 2015, she sued Watson and the Chicago State Board of Trustees for wrongful termination under Illinois’s State Officials and Employees Ethics Act, alleging in part that she was fired for refusing to file the false sexual harassment complaint against Beverly.
In February, Chicago State President Wayne Watson unexpectedly announced that he will retire next year when his contract expires.
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, freedom of expression, academic freedom, due process, and freedom 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.
Nico Perrino, Associate Director of Communications, FIRE: 215-717-3473; firstname.lastname@example.org