CHICAGO, July 30, 2015—Yesterday, a federal judge ordered Chicago State University (CSU) not to “take any steps to shut down the CSU Faculty Voice blog or interfere with its operation in any way.” Although the order does not address the ultimate merits of the First Amendment claim, it allows the case to proceed without any ongoing threat of retaliation for speech critical of CSU’s administration.
The order results from a lawsuit filed last year alleging that CSU was waging a targeted campaign to shut down the CSU Faculty Voice because it criticized the university administration. The suit is part of the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education’s (FIRE’s) Stand Up For Speech Litigation Project, an unprecedented and undefeated national effort to eliminate unconstitutional speech codes from America’s public colleges and universities.
Professors Phillip Beverly and Robert Bionaz sued CSU after the administration repeatedly attempted to silence the Faculty Voice, a blog they authored along with other faculty members. The blog regularly documents alleged misconduct by CSU’s top officials. After bogus accusations of trademark infringement failed to intimidate the professors into shutting down the blog, CSU hastily adopted a far-reaching cyberbullying policy to silence its critics, which it then used to investigate Bionaz for a face-to-face conversation he had with another administrator.
“Yesterday’s order gives Professors Beverly and Bionaz the protection they need from a CSU administration that has shown a single-minded focus on shutting down its critics,” said Catherine Sevcenko, FIRE’s Associate Director of Litigation. “We are relieved that the court will be watching to make sure that the professors will not be sanctioned for simply expressing their views.”
The order also prohibits CSU from taking any steps to punish Professors Beverly or Bionaz without seeking a modification of the order from the court. CSU allegedly attempted to remove Professor Beverly from the university by instigating false charges against him. And in March, a former high-level administrator at Chicago State University alleged in federal court that CSU President Wayne Watson pressured her to file a false sexual harassment complaint against Professor Beverly in an attempt to silence his criticism.
Just before the lawsuit was filed, CSU suspended Professor Beverly for two days without pay because he had his political science seminar attend a Faculty Senate session on censorship at the university.
Thus far, FIRE’s Stand Up For Speech Litigation Project has filed 10 lawsuits against public colleges and universities across the country, six of which have already been settled in favor of First Amendment rights. FIRE’s most recent victory came at California State Polytechnic University, Pomona on July 23, 2015, a little less than four months after the lawsuit was filed. The remaining four cases are still in active litigation.
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, due process, freedom of expression, academic freedom, and rights of conscience at our nation’s colleges and universities. FIRE’s efforts to preserve liberty at Chicago State University and on campuses across America can be viewed at thefire.org.
Katie Barrows, Communications Coordinator, FIRE: 215-717-3473, firstname.lastname@example.org