Chicago State University settled a lawsuit Jan. 7 over two professors creating a blog that criticized the administration. According to the Chicago Tribune, the four-year lawsuit resulted in Chicago State agreeing to pay $650,000 in damages. The professors, Phillip Beverly and Robert Bionaz, alleged that the university shut down their blog.
The blog served as a platform to voice concerns and criticisms of administrative salaries and revolving door of hiring. These concerns are not new—colleges and universities have experienced these administrative issues in the past. Especially with Chicago State’s enrollment below 2000 as of Fall 2017, as addressed in the blog, faculty are rightfully concerned about the university’s well-being.
The issues that faculty speak of in the blog are valid. Though the words the blog uses may be unkind, including calling administrators “cronies” and demanding firings, they are well within their rights. The First Amendment protects them from silencing. The lawsuit forced the university to face the consequences of its unconstitutional suppression.
Marieke Beck-Coon, director of litigation at the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, said professors have a first amendment right to engage in criticism.
“As a democracy, we want to encourage robust public discussion about public figures,” Beck-Coon said.
The university was actually hindering a possible repair when it shut down the blog. Instead of ignoring the posts and shutting them down, Chicago State could have paid closer attention to the posts.
Faculty members want the best for their colleges and universities. Though they may present frustrations and voice negative views, the concerns are ultimately beneficial. They want to be in a successful environment.
The expression of concerns on the blog may in the form of criticism, but they have also offered possible solutions, including ways rapper Kanye West could partner with the university. Before looking at the blog as criticism, it could have further reviewed the posts as opportunities of potential solutions.
If the faculty uses the blog as a tool to voice concerns, members must also be mindful of what they post. Administrators may make libel claims, but the burden of proof that the claims are valid is on them.
“The administrator would have to prove that the speech is false and harms the individual’s reputation or [the individual] receives hate or disrespect of the general public,” Beck-Coon explained.
Because DePaul University is a private university, it does not have the same guidelines as public institutions. It does not have the same first amendment obligation, Beck-Coon said. Regardless, DePaul should take the Chicago State professors’ lawsuit as a lesson to ensure freedom of speech for its faculty.