Thursday, July 10, 2014

Free Speech at CSU: Fire lawsuit; Chicago Tribune Op Ed--July 7th

In case you missed the Op Ed in the Tribune on July 7th about the lawsuit filed by FIRE on behalf of our faculty members, Drs. Robert Bionaz and Phillip Beverly, there is a link below as well as an update on that on the Fire webpage. CSU’s recent cyber-bullying and computer usage policies instituted by the Watson regime have been questioned and discussed here on this blog and on campus by students, faculty, and administrators. Fire is including CSU in its “roll of honor” so to speak, of universities that are creating policies considered unconstitutional in their restriction of free speech. Azhur Majeed, a director at Fire, explained in an Op Ed in the Tribune why Chicago State was included and what the point of the lawsuit is. I’ve posted that here below with some links if you are interested.

Frankly, I hope Fire and other such organizations, look more closely at some of the shenanigans our administration is doing. Thank God someone is overseeing what is going on here since the Board of Trustees refuses to do so, nor will the IBHE, HLC, or state legislators; the phony “reformer” Governor Quinn long ago ceded his responsibility. The Watson administration has been running Chicago State like a political ward—rewarding loyal followers, placing people in lucrative jobs and destroying careers and lives of those who don’t conform to Watson's “vision” or perform some of the quasi-legal stuff they demand. CSU has never been more of an arm of the southside political machine than it has been under Wayne Watson.

The CSU “Family”
To quote Tolstoy (Anna Karenina), “Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.” So, while CSU’s attempts to limit free speech on campus may not be unique in the history of the academy, it is unique in creating its own unhappy family. I’m sure the Watson supporters and apologists (student and faculty) will be shocked, shocked, to learn of harassment and intimidation on a small-scale that has gone on on this campus. Last year a student who was attempting to organize a protest on campus was approached by someone he did not know who told him that the administration knew him and was watching him and that he should stop doing what he was doing. After this happened a second time with a stronger threat, the student freaked out and stopped his involvement in a student organization. He was too afraid even to come to a meeting to describe his experience at a forum organized in April to discuss free speech on campus. There are other experiences that students have received from other students. And Wayne Watson claims his desire is to protect students from “bullying.” Well, like faculty, some students are more equal than others.

Besides the Fire lawsuit, you may or may not know there are lawsuits out there from students who believe their civil rights have been violated by this administration—Willie Preston and Brittany Bailey have filed suit. A few other students probably should—arresting a student who would not take off his hat at a Board meeting, chokeholding him and then saying he resisted arrest? The stuff of a political ward, quite worthy of a civil rights lawsuit.

And the CSU “family” may still be subject to some kind of “civility policy” which was floated around at some point this year. Even the stand-by-your-man Board of Trustees clucked a month ago about imposing some kind of dress code for attendance at their meetings—can’t have those baseball hats on –after chucking out (or arresting) all the hat-wearers will Chief Watson use a ruler to measure the hemlines of women’s skirts? I guess our mostly male and mostly senior Board of Trustees has forgotten how long hair or afros or miniskirts or dashikis shocked the elders in the 1960s and 1970s. Clothing, like words, like text, is also free speech. As one of my colleagues has pointed out to me on numerous occasions—“Chicago State ain’t church.”

FIRE’s Azhar Majeed in ‘Chicago Tribune’ on Chicago State Lawsuit
By Susan Kruth July 7, 2014

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.
Chicago Tribune, July 7, 2014: Chicago State stomps out free speech: lawsuit targets over free speech
Chicago State Stomps out free-speech

1 comment:

  1. Governors State University has a 'civility code'.
    This code has been given a red light from the Foundation for Individual Rights (FIRE).