Chicago State, U. of I. Land On ‘Worst of” List For Campus Free Speech

March 3, 2015

By Meredith Rodriguez at Chicago Tribune

The University of Illinois‘ rescinded job offer to a professor and a controversy over a faculty blog at Chicago State University helped land the two schools on a 2014 “worst of” list for student and faculty free speech rights

A campus censorship watchdog called the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, or FIRE, published this week’s list, which included eight universities across the country and two other entities related to higher education.

“Too often on the modern college campus, students and their professors find their voices silenced by administrators who would rather they be absent from the often contentious marketplace of ideas,” foundation President Greg Lukianoff said Monday. “When this happens, FIRE will be there to call out these reckless censors.”

U. of I.’s Urbana-Champaign campus made the list released Monday because of the school’s decision to withdraw a job offer to professor Steven Salaita after he posted hundreds of tweets on Twitter over the summer criticizing Israel in its conflict with Hamas.

Salaita is a Palestinian-American who studies colonialism and the Middle East and is the author of the 2011 book, “Israel’s Dead Soul.”

Asked about the list Monday, U. of I. spokeswoman Robin Kaler pointed to the array of opinions on campus about the decision to rescind Salaita’s job offer as “the bedrock of our institution.”

“Anyone who has witnessed the vigorous and passionate debates that have taken place and are still taking place on our campus would appreciate that there is plenty of space for freedom of expression and opinion,” Kaler said in a statement.

Chicago State University made the foundation’s list in part because of two controversies involving criticism of the university’s top administrators. One of them pertained to a faculty-run blog that has criticized the school’s leaders and led to a lawsuit filed last year by two professors, alleging that campus policies have illegally targeted the blog.

The Philadelphia-based group behind the “worst of” list helped the two professors file the suit against Chicago State.

Another situation at the school cited in the list involved a whistleblower lawsuit filed by James Crowley, the school’s former legal counsel.

A jury found last year that he was fired in retaliation for reporting misconduct by university President Wayne Watson and other top officials. A judge in that case set Crowley’s payout at more than $3 million. The school is appealing.

Reached for comment Monday, Chicago State spokesman Thomas Wogan said the list “widely mischaracterizes a number of issues.”

“I don’t give the list very much validity, and it’s a self-promotion tool for a special interest group,” Wogan said. “I don’t think it’s objective.”

Schools: University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign Chicago State University Cases: Chicago State University – Stand Up For Speech Lawsuit University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign: Professor Punished for Teaching about Catholic Thought in Course about Catholic Thought