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March 23 2015

A Really Nasty Way to Say, "Shut Up!"

Charlotte Hays

A recent case in Chicago is a twofer: it shows how a university president allegedly tried to shut down free speech on campus by pressuring a high-ranking member of his administration to file a bogus harassment complaint against a dissident faculty member. 

You've got free speech and harassment rolled into one nasty case.

In a declaration filed last week a former high-level administrator at Chicago State University alleges that she was pressured to file a false harassment complaint by Chicago State President Wayne Watson against a faculty member who was critical of his administration. The faculty member was Philip Beverly. The former administrator is LaShondra Peebles, former vice president for enrollment management.

The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE)  reports:

According to the declaration of former Chicago State Vice President for Enrollment Management LaShondra Peebles, Watson was determined to silence Beverly by shutting down the blog, CSU Faculty Voice, which Beverly had founded. Contributors routinely posted documents that supported their allegations of mismanagement by the administration.

After pretextual accusations of trademark infringement failed to intimidate the professors into shutting down their blog, Chicago State hastily adopted a far-reaching cyberbullying policy on May 9, 2014. Ms. Peebles’s declaration alleges that the policy was expressly designed to silence CSU Faculty Voice. In fact, shortly after the Board of Trustees passed the new policy, administrators used it to investigate Professor Robert Bionaz, another blog contributor, for harassment. The investigation was based, inexplicably, on a face-to-face conversation he had with Chicago State’s spokesman.

Watson’s series of actions eventually prompted Beverly and Bionaz to file a First Amendment lawsuit against Watson and others in July 2014. The suit was filed with support from the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) as part of its Stand Up For Speech Litigation Project.

“The Chicago State administration has repeatedly demonstrated its willingness to go to remarkable lengths to suppress dissent on campus,” said FIRE President and CEO Greg Lukianoff. “Between the bogus accusations of trademark infringement, the misuse of university policy, and now new revelations that staff were perhaps pressured to file false harassment complaints, the court should take these allegations very seriously. Chicago State’s repeated attempts to shred the Constitution must end.”

I can't tell what the nature of the harassment was said to be, but this case makes clear how important it is that the accused have the ability to defend themselves: they just might be innocent.

The Chicago case seems to revolve around a harassmant charge that was significantly less grave than rape, though all harassment is extremely serious. But it should make us think about the Obama administration's guidelines for handling allegations of sexual assault on campus.

The Obama administration’s promotion of these guidelines, which vastly abridge the ability of the accused to mount a defense, are built on the idea that there is “rape culture” on campus. The administrations figures used to bolster this idea have been debunked again and again (here and here, for example).

Underlying the abridgement of civil rights for the accused is the idea that rape accusations are never flase. Unfortunately, human nature being what it is—both male and female human nature—this is sometimes not the case. The Chicago case is an instance of false a false accusation that serves to remind us how important it is that the accused have the right to defend himself (and it is always a him)>

Sorry, radical feminists and Obama administration, hundreds of years of jurisprudence got it right.



Independent Women's Forum is an educational 501(c)(3) dedicated to developing and advancing policies that aren’t just well intended, but actually enhance people’s freedom, choices, and opportunities. IWF is the sister organization of the Independent Women’s Voice.​
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