Supporters of FIRE’s mission to defend free speech in academia may already be familiar with Chicago State University’s years-long campaign to shut down criticism of its administration. Some of its staunchest critics, however—a group of faculty members who blog at CSU Faculty Voice—refuse to be silenced. CSU has employed a number of methods to try to silence the faculty blog, from making preposterous trademark infringement claims against the bloggers to enacting a broad "cyberbullying" policy with which to silence the Faculty Voice. In response, professors Phillip Beverly and Robert Bionaz joined forces with FIRE this summer to sue CSU for infringing on their First Amendment rights as part of our Stand Up For Speech Litigation Project.
One might think that CSU would have learned from its repeated failed attempts to quell internal dissent—but one would be wrong. The latest item in the administration’s long train of abuses is the Board of Trustees’ decision last month to withdraw recognition from the school’s Faculty Senate. CSU seeks to justify this maneuver by citing the Senate’s refusal to give the administration records of a faculty vote earlier this year on changes to the Senate’s constitution. (The administration tried to use Illinois’ open-records law to obtain information about a Faculty Senate election earlier this year, such as ballots from the vote and the identities of the ballot-counters.) Along with its derecognition of the Faculty Senate, the Board of Trustees also declared the new constitutional amendments void—a move that has further strained faculty-administration relations at the university.
Professor Bionaz criticized the administration’s open-records request as “incredible overreach,” and Professor Beverly has denounced CSU’s recent maneuver as an attempt “to dissolve the senate so that they could find a faculty body that was more amenable to its nonsense.” The American Association of University Professors (AAUP) has also warned CSU that its move to disband the Faculty Senate violates the principles of academic governance.
We hope that the strong message sent by Stand Up For Speech will get through to CSU, and persuade its trustees and administration to revamp their approach to dealing with dissenting students and faculty along lines consistent with the First Amendment and the principles of academic freedom. The parties in the lawsuit filed July 1 have a status hearing with the magistrate judge on October 7 that might tell us something about CSU’s willingness to change course and respect the First Amendment.