Free Speech Ignored for DePaul Professor

On Monday, November 29, 2010, the Illinois Supreme Court decided not to hear Professor Thomas Klocek’s appeal, bringing an end to his five-year suit against DePaul University for destroying his reputation. The case had been litigated in the circuit court for years in front of a number of different judges: two of which ruled Klocek properly stated valid claims against DePaul; the last of which, however, unexpectedly threw the entire case out on the eve of the trial in 2009. The appellate court was unwilling to disturb any of the circuit court’s holdings, issuing a short order, rather than a published opinion, simply rubber-stamping the circuit court result. 

As those who have followed the case may recall, little more than six years ago, Klocek was a well respected part-time professor at DePaul's School for New Learning who, as DePaul’s own Father Kevin Collins put it, was "more likely to talk an ear off about religious and historical fine points than mean to offend" and was "as gentle as he was opinionated and on the erudite side." This gentle and erudite man, who had enjoyed a fourteen year unblemished record of teaching diversity and culture courses to working adults at DePaul apparently talked about religious and historical fine points with the wrong groups (the Students for Justice in Palestine and the United Muslims Moving Ahead) on the wrong campus. What he understood to be a simple, albeit contentious, dialogue lasting all of five minutes with the student activists about their pet issues, turned out to be beyond DePaul's threshold for academic freedom.

The students with the help of the Council on American and Islamic Relations quickly filed complaints with the administration demanding Klocek's removal, and in a rush to a politically-correct judgment, DePaul caved. Instead of caving privately with an eye to Klocek’s rights and reputation, DePaul's administration, without a hearing or even notice to Klocek of the students' charges against him, made a public spectacle of defending the students from the professor who had dared to "dishonor" their perspective and "assault" their beliefs. Though DePaul later claimed Klocek was suspended for his conduct and not his views or his speech, Dean Susanne Dumbleton, Klocek's supervisor, ruled that "No one should ever use the role of teacher to demean the ideas of others or insist on the absoluteness of an opinion, much less press erroneous assertions."

John Mauck of Mauck & Baker, attorneys for Thomas Klocek, had this statement: "On behalf of Professor Klocek and Mauck & Baker, we express sincere appreciation for the hundreds of e-mails of support, prayers, and financial contributions. We do not think justice was done in this case. By faith we take consolation in realizing that justice was not done in the trials of John the Baptist, Yeshua, Stephen, or Paul yet God brought about extraordinary blessings from those legal "defeats."

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