FIRE, the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, was one of the earliest supporters of suspended professor Thomas Klocek in his free speech struggle with Chicago's DePaul University. FIRE's president, David French, posted his thoughts on the Klocek case on the FIRE site this afternoon--below is that post in its entirety.
Thomas Klocek, the DePaul professor who lost his job without due process after arguing with several students about the Middle East at a student activities fair, has now sued DePaul. Much of the suit focuses on claims that DePaul defamed Klocek, in part by providing the public with false and misleading information about his health. Klocek also claims breach of contract.
In this case, DePaul has shamefully taken a single encounter where the facts are in dispute (the students and professor present radically different versions of the event), and has transformed it into a veritable festival of repression. First, DePaul suspended the professor without a hearing. Second, DePaul attempted to justify that suspension by attacking the professor's speech, not his conduct. When Klocek publicly protested his treatment, DePaul changed course, claiming that the problem was his conduct, not his speech. What mystifies me, however, is the absolute confidence with which DePaul is stating the facts of its (new) case when there never was a fact-finding hearing on the incident. How does DePaul know what Klocek did or did not do? Even more disturbing, in communications with other individuals, DePaul's president referred to mysterious "personal health issues that we discovered were impacting his effectiveness in the classroom."
Just to be clear, in earlier statements, a DePaul official told the student newspaper that Klocek had "'an otherwise positive career of 15 years,' and explained that he is a very well read, intelligent instructor who made an error in judgment.
There had been no previous student complaints regarding Klocek's conduct and he had a positive relationship with the university." So is this case about speech or conduct? Is it about in-class performance or an out-of-class incident?
DePaul must be held to account for its conduct. I look forward to seeing the university explain its changing stories to a judge.