Disciplined professor weighs legal action against employer after Jesse Jackson gets involved

The activist's attention to a controversy at an Illinois school earlier this year gave new energy to the push to penalize the professor, the individual and FIRE argue.

Campus Reform reported on the original incident in early 2021.

A professor facing unexpected sanctions for a controversy earlier this year is now threatening legal action against his employer. 

Earlier this year, University of Illinois Chicago law professor Jason Kilborn was disciplined for including a redacted reference to a racial slur on an exam. 

Though the university promised to not sanction Kilborn, he is now being subjected to individualized “training on classroom conversations that address racism,” according to Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE), before he can return to the classroom.

“This whole fiasco is a huge violation of academic freedom, free speech, due process, and many other things, and we will very likely be in federal court on all of this sooner or later,” Kilborn told Campus Reform

“My administration seems incapable of recognizing and honoring its commitments and obligations under the law, so I’m afraid we’ll have to ask a federal court to make them abide by those duties. So sad and unnecessary,” he added.

[RELATED: Medical journal forces out editor who questioned ‘structural racism.’ Professors rejoice.]

“Whether this requirement is viewed as punishing Kilborn’s past speech or standing alone as compelled speech or ‘reeducation,’ it is unconstitutional, and contravenes the resolution Kilborn reached with UIC this summer to ostensibly close this matter,” Foundation for Individual Rights in Education Faculty Legal Defense Fund Fellow Joshua Bleisch told Campus Reform.

FIRE has funded Kilborn’s representation through our Faculty Legal Defense Fund.

As Campus Reform reported earlier this year, Kilborn created a hypothetical fact pattern in a mock employment discrimination case for his final exam. The fact pattern referred to “profane expressions for African Americans and women,” including expurgated text (“‘n_____’ and ‘b_____’”). Hundreds of students signed a petition against him.

According to the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education — which has been representing Kilborn — UIC promised to refrain from sanctions under the conditions that Kilborn alert the dean before responding to student complaints, as well as audio record his lectures. The school also “recommended” that he attend a diversity reading group.

On Nov. 4, however, Jesse Jackson — a left-wing activist and former Democratic presidential contender — threw his weight behind enduring protests against Kilborn hosted by the University of Illinois Chicago Law School’s Black Law Students Association. 

“While the facts have not changed since the resolution of the original complaints, Jackson’s attendance at a rally earlier this month supporting the students (which was heavily covered by press after the 80-year-old Jackson’s fall days earlier at Howard University where he hit his head and was hospitalized) brought renewed attention to Kilborn’s case,” FIRE’s Nov. 22 statement read. 

[RELATED: OU prof responds to FIRE: Speech in classroom is ‘different than freedom of speech’]

Kilborn told Campus Reform that it appears evident that “this latest abrupt about-face by UIC is totally a result of their bending to political pressure from the Jackson protest and related news media coverage.”

Kilborn explained that the Black Law Students Association provoked a media blitz by claiming that he referred to students as “cockroaches,” which Andrew Koppelman refuted in the Chronicle of Higher Education.

“It is beyond shocking that these BLSA students would now pervert the original story into a suggestion that I have ever called any student or any other person a racial slur,” Kilborn told Campus Reform

“As Andy reports in the Chronicle, Rev. Jackson was misled along with the public into believing the demonstrable lies spread by BLSA, and my administration has done nothing to quell the furor over these scandalous lies,” he continued. “They know what BLSA is saying is false, yet they continue to allow these lies to be spread throughout local media and the internet about me.”

Campus Reform reached out to the University of Illinois-Chicago, Jesse Jackson, and Black Law Students Association for comment; this article will be updated accordingly.

Follow the author of this article on Twitter: @BenZeisloft