Ex-professor: Free speech eroding at DePaul University · 25 January 2007

By Megan Reichgott
Filed under: Press Coverage

Associated Press

CHICAGO - Free speech is a sin at DePaul University, thanks to a wave of political correctness at Catholic universities, according to a former professor who was suspended after arguing with pro-Palestinian students at a campus activities fair.

"A short conversation with some students about an admittedly sensitive subject, the situation in the Middle East ... has indeed changed my life quite radically," Thomas Klocek said during a speech on DePaul's campus Wednesday night. "I no longer teach here. I believe I am subject now to the vagaries of political correctness and that the administration is simply unwilling or unable to confront the situation directly, so I am the expendable one."

But school officials said Klocek's portrayal of DePaul as a despotic campus where free speech isn't allowed is inaccurate.

"We think it's belied by the fact that we allowed Mr. Klocek to come on campus and speak to our student body," said DePaul spokesman John Holden.

Klocek's suspension and subsequent defamation lawsuit against DePaul have been touchstones for conservative-leaning groups that point to the untenured instructor as a sacrificial lamb for political correctness run amok.

Klocek was an adjunct professor of critical thinking, writing and research for 14 years until he was suspended after a September 2004 incident involving students from two groups, Students for Justice in Palestine and United Muslims Moving Ahead.

Both Klocek and the student groups say an argument began after the instructor read a pro-Palestinian flier from one of the groups' tables. Among the topics was whether Palestinians truly exist.

Students complained to DePaul administrators that Klocek shouted, threw papers and stayed when he was asked to leave. But Klocek says he never threw papers or shouted, and is being punished for his opinions.

Klocek says DePaul asked him to give up his teaching assignment with pay for the following semester and said he couldn't return until he apologized to the students and agreed to have his classes monitored.

He refused, and filed a defamation lawsuit in June 2005, claiming School for New Learning Dean Susanne Dumbleton and President Dennis Holtschneider maligned him in the media.

"Two-and-a-half years later, I have never received a written series of the charges against me, I have never received a letter that says that I am suspended, I have never received a letter saying that I am terminated, so I guess ... I'm sort of a man without an academic country," said Klocek, who received a standing ovation from some audience members when he approached the podium with a white gag tied around his mouth.

Holden said DePaul officials couldn't talk about the specifics of the lawsuit because it is still pending.

"There were certain parameters, things we had asked him to do before he was hired and he chose not to fulfill them," Holden said.

Statements have been taken from Klocek and others who witnessed the incident, said Klocek attorney John Mauck.

Holtschneider and Dumbleton have also been deposed, but the university obtained a court order prohibiting a discussion of the depositions, Mauck said.

"It's just a continuation of the original incident. They silenced Professor Klocek because he disagreed strongly with some ... of the Muslim activists, now they're continuing their program of not allowing the facts to get out," Mauck said.

Sophomore Nicholas Hahn, 19, helped organize the event on Wednesday, which included conservative activist and author David Horowitz. The Young America's Foundation and the DePaul Conservative Alliance sponsored the event, which was attended by a standing-room-only crowd of more than 200 people.

"At DePaul, like any university, there's kind of almost an intolerance ... when discussing controversial or conservative issues," Hahn said. "Fringe groups dominate extracurricular activities, and you cannot discuss any issue that is controversial without being labeled as offensive or racist."

Klocek "is a classic American victim here," said Horowitz, founder of Students for Academic Freedom. "His free speech has been totally infringed, it's a threat to everybody's free speech."

Senior Cyndi Torres, 21, said she was glad Klocek no longer teaches at DePaul.

"I think it was fair that he was reprimanded," Torres said. "Anybody who has the audacity to talk to students, to step over boundaries with students like that ... I think it was fair."

Klocek said after his speech that he was unsure if he'd return to DePaul, even if administrators offered him his job back and apologized.

"There's a lot of water under the dam, I know that there are a lot of hard and bruised feelings about this and I am not sure that coming back as an adjunct, with no guaranteed contract and such, would be necessarily a wise idea."