It has cost Chicago State University $650,000 to settle a First Amendment lawsuit against officials who threatened a faculty blog that was critical of the school administration.
The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education said the lawsuit was part of its “Stand Up For Speech Litigation Project” launched several years ago.
The lawsuit was one of four filed on the opening day of the project. It’s now the 13th case settled through the organization’s efforts.
The settlement came in the case filed by Chicago State professors Phillip Beverly and Robert Bionaz when the school threatened them with legal action if they didn’t close down their faculty blog.
The blog criticized “perceived corruption and incompetence” in the administration of former CSU President Wayne Watson.
The university claimed the blog infringed trademarks and did not meet its “high standards of civility and professionalism.”
CSU also claimed a photo of hedges on campus violated its intellectual property rights, FIRE said.
“Four-plus years of mounting legal expenses for a school with scarce resources; four-plus years of scandal and public ridicule for a school whose reputation can afford neither,” Bionaz said. “The conclusion of this action represents a repudiation of the Watson administration’s egregious efforts to stifle speech on the Chicago State campus.”
“I am disappointed that a public university was forced through litigation to protect the First Amendment rights of faculty, staff, and students,” Beverly said. “The final resolution of this case came only after a new president was hired. I am hopeful that the new administration will be mindful of the constitutional protections that we all enjoy and that scarce state resources won’t be squandered because of executive hubris and gross incompetence.”
The agreement also provides that the school reform its unconstitutional cyberbullying and computer-usage policies.
The policies barred “any communication which tends to embarrass or humiliate,” FIRE said.
“This case should remind administrators of state universities they are not a law unto themselves and must obey constitutional commands,” said Robert Corn-Revere, a lawyer representing the professors.
“Universities can only serve as a true marketplace of ideas when preserving and protecting the First Amendment is a core part of their mission.”
FIRE had argued that CSU should give up the fight because it recently had been ordered to pay another plaintiff $2.5 million over a case about public records. CSU also paid out $200,000 in a case over its retaliation against a student newspaper critical of the university.