Paul L. Caron

Monday, September 13, 2021

Jason Kilborn, UI-Chicago Law School Settle Controversy Over December 2020 Civ Pro Final Exam Question

Following up on my previous posts:

Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, FIRE’s New Defense Fund Is Here to Save College Faculty Jobs. And We Just Closed Our First Case.:

When the University of Illinois Chicago suspended and launched an investigation into law professor Jason Kilborn, he initially didn’t know where to turn.

He had posed a long-used hypothetical question in a December 2020 law school exam using redacted references to two slurs. The question about employment discrimination included a plaintiff being called “a ‘n____’ and ‘b____’ (profane expressions for African Americans and women)” as explosive evidence of the discrimination. But even redacting the terms didn’t save him from criticism — or eventually being targeted by his school. ...

In January, just before the first class on the first day of spring semester, UIC’s administration abruptly suspended him. He said they refused to explain the basis for the indefinite suspension, despite being asked. ...

On Jan. 19, FIRE called on UIC Chancellor Michael D. Amiridis to reject “any intent to punish Kilborn over his protected expression.” FIRE gave UIC a good-faith opportunity to back off Kilborn and to reaffirm his academic freedom rights.

UIC responded to confirm that it was, in fact, conducting an investigation into Kilborn’s exam and rejecting our concerns about his academic freedom rights. The move earned UIC a spot on FIRE’s annual list of the 10 Worst Colleges for Free Speech, as well as pointed criticism from outlets and commentators across the country.

In the Chronicle of Higher Education, Northwestern University law professor Andrew Koppelman billed the situation as “punitive overreactions of university administrators grow[ing] ever more demented.” ...

Through the fund, FIRE connected Kilborn with a local attorney, Wayne Giampietro. With help from the FLDF team at FIRE, the pair reached a resolution with UIC. Kilborn agreed to alert the dean before responding to student complaints about racial issues, and the audio of his classes would be recorded — both stipulations Kilborn welcomed in order to protect himself against spurious complaints, and one he’d already decided to take independently. 

Kilborn strongly objected to mandatory sensitivity training or signing a non-disclosure agreement that would have barred him from publicly commenting about the ordeal. He said it’s thanks to the credible threat of action by an FLDF attorney that the administration’s final resolution did not contain these elements.

“The resolution in my case was like most good compromises — it pleased no one, so it must have been the right one,” he said. “The average person doesn’t enjoy fighting. If I enjoyed fighting I would’ve remained a lawyer. I was tired of it, emotionally tired of it. I’m grateful for FIRE’s backing, both moral and financial, without which I don’t know how I would have made it through the hell of these last six months.”

Kilborn lamented that he didn’t get his day in court to fully vindicate his rights, but he wanted to get back in the classroom and move on to training the next generation of lawyers. ... “What FIRE and the legal defense fund gave me is the ability, and the credibility, to go to the administration and defend my rights,” he said. “I had a lawyer standing beside me, ready to act even if we decided to take no action — and that means a lot.”

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