JUSTICE FOR PROFESSOR LORETTA CAPEHEART!
A TEST CASE FOR ACADEMIC FREEDOM AND WORKERS’ RIGHTS
Northeastern Illinois University (NEIU) Justice Studies professor Loretta Capeheart has been targeted by her administration for her outspokenness for workers’ rights, against the Iraq war, and for increased representation of minority scholars at NEIU. In 2007 she was elected to chair her department by a 2/3 majority of her colleagues, yet the University refused to appoint her to that post and even went so far as to put the department into receivership and install a representative of the administration as chair. Capeheart was also denied merited awards during this time.
What were Capeheart’s “crimes”? An activist in her union (University Professionals of Illinois-AFT/IFT), Capeheart was a leader in the 2004 faculty strike. In 2006, she testified in the state legislature on the need to recruit greater numbers of Latino/a faculty, contradicting and infuriating Provost Lawrence Frank, who was in attendance. In February 2007, she defended students in the anti-war movement who were arrested during a protest of a CIA recruitment event on campus. This controversy led NEIU President Sharon Hahs to propose a campus events policy (subsequently withdrawn) imposing draconian and unconstitutional restrictions on freedom of speech and assembly on the campus.
When Capeheart spoke up at a faculty council meeting to question the treatment of the students, NEIU Vice President Melvin Terrell lashed out at her, stating that Capeheart was a “person of interest” to the police and that a student had filed charges of stalking against Capeheart. These defamatory statements were absolutely unfounded. But the threat against Capeheart—that if she continued to speak out, she and her career would be targets for retribution—remains very real. “Stalking is a criminal offense,” she said. “I lived in continual fear that someone would come to arrest me in my class and that I would lose my job. The message was that if I continued to speak they would come after me.” To date, Terrell has not retracted his accusations.
Capeheart is suing Terrell for defamation, alongside Hahs and Provost Lawrence Frank for violation of her constitutional right to free speech and retaliation against her. She seeks an injunction against further violations, her rightful appointment as chair, and from Terrell, monetary damages for harms resulting from his defamation of her. Incredibly, the administrators’ response argues that Capeheart, as a state employee, may not sue the University or its officials, contravene their positions, question their conduct, or speak as a faculty member on matters of public concern. Their motion to dismiss the case states that “clothed in her authority as a faculty member,” Capeheart criticized University policy, “even going so far as to disagree with the stated positions of the Provost.” “It is very middle ages,” Capehart said, “like the lord vs. the serf.” The case is pending hearing in Federal Court.
We cannot allow NEIU administrators to get away with these attacks on academic freedom and workers’ rights. Their actions should be chilling to all workers, activists, and scholars. Her case is a perfect example of the stakes of the ongoing struggle for academic freedom—for labor, for inclusion and equality of minorities, and for the right to protest against war and injustice. We stand with her.
Petition at http://www.petitiononline.com/j4lc/petition.html