Resolution in Support of Academic Freedom in the Case of Loretta Capeheart
University of Texas at Austin Faculty Council
Drafted by Dana L. Cloud, Associate Professor of Communication Studies,
University of Texas at Austin
Loretta Capeheart, a longstanding activist, scholar, and teacher, has been in a protracted struggle with her employer, Northeastern Illinois University (NEIU) in Chicago. The campaign is now at a crucial stage as she awaits the outcome of a decision by the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals. Depending on the decision, the case could go all the way to the US Supreme Court. The court’s ruling on Loretta’s case will have wide ramifications for academic free speech and workplace rights across the country. Loretta has been forced to spend nearly $100,000 in legal fees which has put her and her family under enormous financial strain. Part of the NEIU administration’s strategy is to bankrupt Loretta and intimidate anyone else from standing up to them.
The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) wrote, "If upheld on review, the district court's ruling would deal a major blow to professors' academic freedom and free speech in the Seventh Circuit--and quite likely beyond, as it would send the unmistakable message that faculty members aiming to speak out and be active in campus dialogue risk having their careers damaged."
Capeheart is a 10-year tenured professor at NEIU and a respected union and community activist. NEIU administrators have systematically targeted her for years. Administrators have engaged in slander against her, denied her a department chair position and earned merit pay increases. These attacks resulted from Capeheart's union activities and anti-war work and her attempts to promote the rights of students and faculty, especially Latino/a faculty.
NEIU President Sharon K. Hahs is an arrogant opponent of student, worker and minority rights on campus and has presided over a spectacle of administrative scandal during her tenure. In Capeheart v. Hahs et al, a federal judge concluded that Capeheart could be punished for speaking out against the war because she advised a student club. The court agreed with NEIU's lawyers that academics have no right to free speech under the Supreme Court's 2006 decision Garcetti v. Ceballos.
In Garcetti, the Supreme Court stripped most government workers of their rights to speak in the workplace but made a footnoted exception for professors. In deciding against Capeheart, the lower court effectively ignored this footnote and left workers with fewer rights. Other federal courts have similarly misapplied Garcetti. Now the appeal before the 7th Circuit Court of appeals will either reject the new limits set by the lower courts or further establish them. Either way, this decision could lead to another hearing before the Supreme Court.
The newly-formed Justice for Loretta Capeheart Campaign has been created to win solidarity for her struggle, encourage financial support, explain the political ramifications of Loretta’s case and direct organizing efforts to put pressure on NEIU’s administration to end their assault on Loretta and academic freedom more generally. More crucial information is available at www.justice4loretta.com. The resource link contains articles and documents explaining all the issues involved.
The website features a newly-penned Appeal Letter signed by Noam Chomsky, Michael Ratner, Mike Davis, Jesse Sharkey, the Coalition Against the Corporatization of Higher Education, Scott McLemee, David McNally and many more. The appeal letter can be downloaded at the website.
Activists across the US are asked to circulate the website far and wide on listservs, facebook and by any other means; circulate the Appeal Letter in academic networks, faculty unions and campus organizations; contact professors, institutions and student organizations to encourage them to support the campaign in whatever way they can; make a case to individuals and institutions to provide financial support for the struggle; write and speak about the campaign in blogs, journals, magazines, online publications, campus newspapers, union newsletters, at conferences, union and faculty meetings; ask publications to include versions of the appeal letter in print and online editions; encourage others to write about the case; and invite Professor Capeheart to speak at a forum on Academic Freedom and the Corporatization of Universities sponsored by your department, faculty union or student senate with funding; and join the national organizing list email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The University of Texas Faculty Council has as its mandate to advise the Board of Regents on important matters of academic policy to make the University of Texas System of the “first class”; and
The capacity of faculty members to critique accepted truths and search for new knowledge is essential to making the System one of “the first class”; and
The University of Texas System Board of Regents Rules and Regulations Series authorizes the faculty to have a “major role in the governance of their institutions” with regard to general academic policies and welfare, student life and activities, and faculty rules of procedure; and
Federal rulings on the subject of academic freedom and responsibility have an impact on academic freedom in teaching, research, and expression at the University of Texas; and
Garcetti as applied in In Capeheart v. Hahs et al., endangers faculty members’ freedom to critique accepted truths and search for new knowledge and threatens academic freedom safeguards of tenure, due process, and faculty governance that allow faculty members to serve the common good without being controlled by public opinion; and
The dangerous application of the Garcetti ruling in Capeheart v. Hahs et al. is of national significance in defining faculty rights across the US;
Be It Resolved That
The University of Texas Faculty Council shall endorse and support Capeheart in her suit against Northeastern Illinois University (NEIU); and
The University of Texas Faculty Council shall make this endorsement publicly known and publicize the case and appeal among the University of Texas System faculty.
Resolved on this day, date