By Lolly Bowean at Chicago Tribune
The president of Chicago State University tried to pressure a high-level administrator to file false claims of sexual harassment against an outspoken professor to help the college try to silence him, according to court documents filed Thursday as part of an ongoing lawsuit.
In a sworn statement, LaShondra Peebles, the college’s former interim vice president of enrollment and student affairs, said before she was fired that President Wayne Watson pushed her to accuse Phillip Beverly of sexual harassment, though Peebles said she was never harassed.
Beverly contributes to the blog CSU Faculty Voice,which has been critical of Watson and his policies.
Beverly and professor Robert Bionaz have sued the university in federal court for allegedly attempting to shut down their blog. Their lawsuit was filed last year with support from the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, also known as FIRE. Peebles also has sued the university; in a filing last month, she claimed she was wrongly terminated from Chicago State in June 2014 after working for more than two years at the South Side school.
According to the professors’ lawsuit, CSU has taken several steps to keep them from publishing their blog, including accusing them of trademark infringement. But Thursday, they alleged in court papers that Watson and other top college administrators repeatedly pressed Peebles to file a sexual harassment claim.
“The discussion became heated, with individuals telling me to file a claim against Professor Beverly,” Peebles said in the documents. “I was accused of not being a ‘team player.’ I became distressed by the discussion and left the meeting.”
Beverly and Bionaz’s attorneys have asked for an injunction to stop CSU administrators from interfering with their blogging. A hearing for the matter is scheduled for next month, officials said.
“To have a university president, whose institution is supposed to promote discussion, to go (to) these lengths to shut it down is disheartening,” said Catherine Sevcenko, the associate director of litigation for FIRE.
CSU spokesman Thomas Wogan said he couldn’t talk specifically about the allegations made in the sworn statement or about the reasons Peebles was terminated. But he said her statement was not true.
“I can say that when this is all said and done, it will be shown for what it is, which is a complete lie and totally false,” he said. “I would just add, that if you consider the sources here, the allegations of a terminated employee … and a professor who is willing to file any number of frivolous lawsuits in order to advance his agenda … this document has zero credibility and is completely false.”