NEIU Board gets an earful on free-speech issues

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Loretta Capeheart
  • Loretta Capeheart
The Northeastern Illinois University Board of Trustees heard complaints from faculty members and others at their meeting Thursday about the amount of money the university has been spending on outside legal counsel in cases related to the academic freedom of professor Loretta Capeheart ($435,000 from May 2009 to May 2010 alone, Capeheart's supporters say). They also received complaints about additional academic freedom issues involving tenure denial for linguistics professor John Boyle and the shutdown of the student radio station, WZRD.

The board then went into a closed "executive session."

On Friday, AAUP editor John Wilson followed up with a blistering letter voicing his concern that NEIU is "becoming one of the worst public universities in America when it comes to freedom of speech and academic freedom."

Here's Wilson's letter:

Dear NEIU Trustees: I apologize that I was unable to speak at your meeting yesterday, but the extraordinary problems at NEIU could not be summarized in two minutes, and I wanted to make sure you were all aware of them.

I'm the co-editor of the American Association of University Professors' Academe Blog, and a member of the Illinois AAUP's Committee A on academic freedom and tenure.

My concern, from following the cases involving WZRD, John Boyle, and Loretta Capeheart, is that NEIU is becoming one of the worst public universities in America when it comes to freedom of speech and academic freedom.

You can read my latest analysis of the censorship for WZRD at Academe Blog,

http://academeblog.org/2012/11/09/the-civility-and-decorum-police-at-neiu-and-the-continuing-shutdown-of-wzrd/

And also my earlier article: http://academeblog.org/2012/10/28/the-shutdown-of-wzrd-at-neiu/.

The shutdown of WZRD is unconstitutional under the First Amendment, explicitly illegal under the 2008 Illinois College Campus Press Act (http://academeblog.org/2012/10/28/the-shutdown-of-wzrd-at-neiu/), and in violation of NEIU's own policies.

NEIU is attempting to impose “civility and decorum” rules that do not exist under the Student Code of Conduct and are plainly an unconstitutional speech code.

Regulation of decorum also appears to be a motivating factor for NEIU administration in the punishment of professor Loretta Capeheart and the denial of tenure to professor John Boyle. In Capeheart's case, she was denied a raise and a position as chair for criticizing the administration and supporting the rights of students to protest on campus. In Boyle's case, an exemplary scholar and teacher was denied tenure, apparently because he advised students to switch their minor from ESL to his department, Linguistics. As the Illinois AAUP Committee A (of which I am a member) noted in its letter to NEIU (http://english.sxu.edu/sites/kirstein/archives/9641), academic freedom fully protects the right of professors to advise students, and an alleged violation of academic decorum should be completely irrelevant to judging actual academic qualifications.

I urge the Board of Trustees to ensure that liberty is protected at NEIU and that the administration is following the law, the First Amendment, and the obligations of every university to promote and protect academic freedom.

Thanks,
John K. Wilson
co-editor, Academe blog (www.academeblog.org)
editor, Illinois Academe (ilaaup.org)

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