A University of Illinois-Chicago (UIC) law professor who was suspended after he responded to a student complaining about a test question is suing his university, alleging they violated his First Amendment rights.
The professor, Jason Kilborn, alleges he was punished for including a test question that contained two redacted racial slurs – a question he had included on his exams for years without incident. Part of his punishment by the university included taking a racial sensitivity course, which included the same redacted slur in its training materials, the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) reported.
As The Daily Wire previously reported, Kilborn included on his Civil Procedure II exam in the fall of 2020 a question that included edited references to racial and gender slurs. The question was about a hypothetical case regarding gender and racial employment discrimination.
At one point, the question discussed allegations from a hypothetical employee regarding her treatment at a hypothetical company, saying this employee quit “after she attended a meeting in which other managers expressed their anger at Plaintiff, calling her a ‘n___’ and ‘b___’ [sic].”
The question caused a backlash from the Black Law Students Association, which claimed Kilborn’s exam question “shocked students and created a huge distraction from taking the exam.” The BLSA circulated a petition demanding Kilborn be removed as chair of the academic affairs committee “and from all other committee appointments he holds.” The petition was sent to dean Darby Dickerson and Chancellor Michael Amiridis.
Kilborn met with a member of the BLSA for a conversation on Zoom after the petition was created. During that conversation, the BLSA member asked the professor when Dickerson hadn’t given the “attack letter” to him. Kilborn allegedly speculated, in jest: “I suspect she’s afraid if I saw the horrible things said about me in that letter I would become homicidal.”
The BLSA member reported this comment to the school’s Behavioral Threat Assessment team, and Kilborn was placed on indefinite leave.
Kilborn, however, believed his suspension was due to the exam question, and even said he was “actively misled into believing my suspension was related to that language,” according to Northwestern University Law Professor Andrew Koppelman, who reported on the story for The Chronicle of Higher Education.
Kilborn is now suing UIC for violating his First Amendment rights, with the help of FIRE’s Faculty Legal Defense Fund.
“The only thing that will hold UIC accountable for its unconstitutional actions is a lawsuit,”
Kilborn said. “FIRE’s Faculty Legal Defense Fund gave me the strong medicine of real legal action, and UIC has given me no choice but to use it.”
Kilborn reached a resolution with UIC last July and “agreed to alert the dean before responding to student complaints about racial issues and to audio-record his classes,” FIRE reported. Kilborn was fine with the agreement and had already decided to take those actions on his own. Part of the agreement also said that Kilborn would not have to attend sensitivity training, but after the BLSA complained along with Jesse Jackson, UIC reneged on its agreement and required him to participate in a lengthy “training on classroom conversations that address racism” as well as write reflection papers before allowing him to teach again.
“In a stunning display of unintended irony, the individualized training materials include the same redacted slur that Kilborn used in his test question,” FIRE reported.
“UIC crucifies Kilborn for using a redacted slur, then turns around and forces him into anti-racism training that uses that same slur,” said Ronnie London, head of FIRE’s Faculty Legal Defense Fund. “Kilborn is effectively showing up to re-education and being handed his own text.”
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