The Volokh Conspiracy

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Academic Freedom

Things Get Worse at the University of Illinois at Chicago


The University of Illinois at Chicago seems unable to correct course and respect the academic freedom commitments that it has made to its faculty. For a year, the university has been hounding one of its law professors, Jason Kilborn, at the behest of some of its students. The fracas started when Kilborn included a hypothetical on his civil procedure exam involving an individual telling an investigating lawyer that former co-workers "expressed their anger at Plaintiff, calling her a "n____" and "b____" (profane expressions for African Americans and women) and vowed to get rid of her." He has been suspended from teaching ever since as students demand that he be fired.

He reached an agreement with the university that would have settled the matter, but the university reneged on that agreement and the chancellor of the university weighed in demanding that the punishment must continue until morale has improved. The Academic Freedom Alliance wrote to the university in November explaining the damage that the university was doing to academic freedom protections.

Brian Leiter has since broken the news of the university's latest demands on Professor Kilborn. His post includes a link to the letter from the university to Kilborn's attorney. As Leiter notes, the University of Illinois at Chicago "has gone crazy."

Last Friday, the university informed Professor Kilborn's lawyer that Professor Kilborn would be suspended from teaching this Spring at UIC's John Marshall Law School (although still paid, and still required to perform administrative duties) so that he can participate in rather time-intensive "re-education" programs:  Download 21; 12.16 from Alsterda

Professor Kilborn will be subjected to an 8-week indoctrination course–20 hours of coursework, required "self-reflection" (self-criticism?) papers for each of 5 modules, plus weekly 90-minute sessions with a trainer followed by three more weeks of vaguely described supplemental meetings with this trainer.  Since the trainer will provide "feedback regarding Professor Kilborn's engagement and commitment to the goals of the program," disagreement or skepticism about the content of the program is presumably not welcome.

This is simply chilling.

Professor Kilborn is represented by an attorney supported by the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education's new faculty legal defense fund. Back in November, when the university initially reneged on its agreement with Professor Kilborn, FIRE wrote:

This is, to put it plainly, a new low for UIC. The university must immediately remove this unjustified requirement. Should it fail to do so, FIRE is committed to using all the resources at its disposal to defend professor Kilborn's rights.

It seems unavoidable that Professor Kilborn will have to vindicate his rights in court. The University of Illinois has disgraced itself in this matter.