Azhar Majeed, Director of FIRE’s Individual Rights Education Program, takes Chicago State University (CSU) to task in the Chicago Tribune today. As part of FIRE’s new Stand Up For Speech Litigation Project, two CSU professors have filed suit against the university for its unconstitutional speech codes and attempts to shut down CSU Faculty Voice, a blog to which the professors contribute.
As Azhar notes in his column, “Schools that maintain speech codes have consistently lost in court when trying to defend these policies.” Yet CSU and hundreds of other universities maintain policies that clearly infringe upon students’ and faculty members’ right to free expression. In his article, Azhar reviews CSU’s poor free speech record:
Chicago State has demonstrated a pattern of attempting to silence criticism and dissenting viewpoints. The university has repeatedly tried to shut down a blog published by several faculty members, CSU Faculty Voice, which documents allegations of mismanagement by the university administration and provides links to relevant public documents. Chicago State’s general counsel sent the faculty members a cease-and-desist letter last year ordering them to “immediately disable” the website “in order to avoid legal action.” Two of the professors who write for the CSU Faculty Voice are plaintiffs in the lawsuit filed last week. The lawsuit also challenges the school’s computer usage policy, which prohibits, among other things, “any communication which tends to embarrass or humiliate any member of the community.” The policy provides no indication of what might constitute such expression, despite the vagueness of the terms “embarrass” and “humiliate.” This gives Chicago State carte blanche to go after any speech that is critical of the university, questions its policies or leadership, or takes viewpoints the administration does not favor.
Indeed, forwarding Azhar’s article—or this one—using CSU’s computers or network would appear to run afoul of the computer usage policy. After all, the university may find it “embarrassing” to be called out publicly for trying to silence professors’ criticism (which, of course, may result in more criticism). But FIRE’s statements on the case—just like the content of CSU Faculty Voice, and just like a wide range of expression that could be punished under the computer usage policy or a similarly restrictive cyberbullying policy at CSU—are nevertheless constitutionally protected.
Read the rest of Azhar’s commentary in the Chicago Tribune.