DePaul University Political Correctness Faces Trial

Over a year ago we alerted readers to a very significant case involving outrageous abuse in the name of political correctness. Thomas Klocek, who taught at DePaul University for 14 years, was summarily fired for the 'crime' of speaking to the anti—Israel, pro—Palestinian mindset that has come to dominate the DePaul campus. A ruling yesterday cleared the way for a trial that promises to rip the mask of academic respectability off of a university that has behaved despicably.

A defamation suit was filed in Illinois' Cook County Chancery last June charging that DePaul University and its leadership defamed Professor Thomas Klocek when DePaul publicly characterized arguments he presented to members of Palestinian and Muslim student groups as racist and bigoted. The suit seeks damages against DePaul for maligning Klocek's integrity and professional competence. The defendants named include: DePaul University; Rev. Dennis Holtschneider, President of DePaul; and Susan Dumbleton, Dean of DePaul's School for New Learning.

Yesterday, Judge Stuart Nudelman of the Illinois Circuit County Law Division Court agreed that Klocek's claims have merit, which will allow his suit against DePaul to move forward toward a trial by jury. Klocek's advocates characterized the Judge's statements in court this way:

Judge Nudelman believes that DePaul's actions to discipline Professor Thomas Klocek went to such extreme that their conduct rose to the level of defamation. He noted that DePaul exhibited destructive political correctness when it gave way to its fear of students' reactions to Prof. Klocek's challenges to the student groups' literature and perspective on the Middle East conflict between Israel and the Palestinians. Judge Nudelman also commented that if such limited debate took place when he was a student, it would have resulted in having an inferior educational experience.

Judge Nudelman also stated that DePaul's public disclosures about Prof. Klocek defamed him in that they denigrated his ability to perform as a professor.

'We have cleared the biggest hurdle before trial. The judge has agreed with us that we have properly stated valid claims for defamation charges against DePaul and individual defendants, including DePaul's president,' said Andy Norman, Klocek's attorney with the law firm of Mauck & Baker.

Background of the Case

As reported by Richard Baehr in April last year, DePaul University in Chicago is one of the fastest growing universities in the country. It has become the largest Catholic—affiliated university in America. Muslim and Arab students are one of the segments of DePaul's student population that has seen the greatest increase in numbers in recent years. Although no figures are available, these students are an important source of revenue for the University, and many may well pay full tuition, making their attendance particularly lucrative.

Klocek has lost his teaching position and school—paid health insurance benefits, and faces a bleak future due to his chronic health problems. He is guilty of a thought—crime, challenging the pro—Palestinian, anti—Israel mindset which has come to dominate the DePaul campus
Klocek's challenge to this new campus orthodoxy occurred in a cafeteria during a student activities fair last September. For 15—20 minutes, Klocek, who is Catholic, not Jewish, confronted a group of 8 students manning two tables for the groups Students for Justice in Palestine, and United Muslims Moving Ahead.  Klocek says he argued that the materials the groups were disseminating were one—sided. On this, he is indisputably correct. Neither group pretends to provide balanced information on the Israeli Palestinian conflict. That of course, is perfectly understandable and acceptable. These are advocacy groups.

Klocek says the discussion was heated at times, and he admits to raising his voice.   He says he told the students that Palestinians were Arabs who lived in the West Bank and Gaza — that they had no unique national historical identity. He challenged one student's assertion that Israel was behaving like the Nazis. He stated that while most Muslims were not terrorists, pretty much all terrorists these days were Muslim. This statement had originally been made by the manager of an Arab news channel, and had recently been quoted in the Chicago Sun Times.  It has the incidental merit of being true.

Clearly, the students were not used to such a challenge.  DePaul in fact has gone out of its way in recent years to make the campus dialogue 'safe' for Muslim and Arab students. The University administration warned the campus community after the September 11th attacks that offensive speech hostile to Muslims would not be tolerated.

But speech hostile to Jews, or Israelis, or for that matter, the great mass of Americans grieving and offended by the 9/11 attacks, was perfectly legitimate. While New York and Washington were digging up their 3,000 dead, Muslims students at DePaul were using the post 9/11 environment to publicly attack America and Israel for their crimes and policies at campus forums, paid for with student fees. The campus has welcomed representatives of the Palestinian terror group Islamic Jihad to campus. The scurrilous propaganda 'documentary' Jenin Jenin has been shown on campus.

What is surprising at DePaul is that groups which might normally come to the defense of a beleaguered professor unjustly removed from his position have been quiet. The ACLU has been silent. The Illinois Conference of the American Association of University Professors (AAUP) did publish an article on the case in its Spring, 2006 newsletter, Illinois Academe, however.

The University wasted little time after hearing of the students' complaints about Klocek. The students first met with their advisors and then with a series of University administration members.  They said that he had insulted them and their religion and (imagine this!) acted as if he was right and they were wrong. DePaul accepted the charges in toto and without holding a hearing (to which Klocek was entitled) quickly suspended the Professor.

The Muslim students also sent out an email to a large population at DePaul declaring a fatwa on Klocek for insulting Islam. With the recent history of the murder of Theo Van Gogh in the Netherlands, and the secret life of Salmon Rushdie for more than a decade since the Iranian fatwa directed against him, one might have expected DePaul to have viewed this email as possibly threatening to Professor Klocek, and as potentially criminal behavior.

DePaul has argued that they object to Klocek's behavior, not to his speech nor to his views. This is nonsense. Susanne Dumbleton, Dean of the School of New Learning, Klocek's boss, made the following priceless remark about the Klocek case:

'No one should ever use the role of teacher to demean the ideas of others or insist on the absoluteness of an opinion, much less press erroneous assertions.'

So what Klocek argued was erroneous (meaning of course that the pro—Israel position is wrong).  But at the same time, no opinion should ever be argued as right or wrong (the absoluteness of an opinion). And no teacher should ever tell a student that he is wrong about anything.  Make these three contradictory statements in one sentence, and you too qualify to be a dean at DePaul.

When she met with him, Dumbleton also told Klocek that the students were hurt and crushed by his behavior. She effectively accused Klocek of being a religious bigot and a racist with this comment:

'No student anywhere should ever have to be concerned that they will be verbally attacked for their religious beliefs or ethnicity.'

Dumbleton's comment picked up on the theme of a student emailer who said the incident was a 'racist encounter.' Accusing somebody who disagrees with you of being a racist is a very common technique, especially by those who lack history or facts to make their case. Apparently none of the students were so badly injured by Klocek that they missed classes due to their distress.

Dumbleton also accused Klocek of using his power as a professor, and therefore his power over the students, to force them to accept his views as true. But until the students asked, Klocek revealed nothing about his campus teaching role, and had no power relationship (professor with his students) to use against any of the student complainers. DePaul, in defending its actions, went so far as to argue that since Klocek was older than the students, that in and of itself, established a power relationship. Evidently older people are to be cautioned against disagreeing with their juniors, on the danger of wielding power. At DePaul, evidently the student inmates run the asylum, based on the principle of Bizzaro—world seniority.

As for forcing the students to accept his views as true, if that were indeed the case, then Klocek presumably should have stuck around until he forced the students to accept his views, rather than walk off realizing the discussion was not changing anybody's minds (neither his nor theirs). Klocek clearly accepted that failure to ever agree. What the students seemed to resent, in his view, is that somebody on campus did not accept their views.

Dean Dumbelton said in an interview with the campus paper that she was

'deeply saddened by the loss of intellectual empowerment that the students suffered.'

She later wrote a letter to the same paper that the

'students' perspective was dishonored, and their freedom demeaned. Individuals were deeply insulted.'

She said she had met with the students and apologized to them for the insult and disrespect they endured.

'I regret the assault on their dignity, their beliefs, their individual selves.'

Remember that these alleged abuses and injuries were all suffered as a result of one 15—minute conversation with Professor Klocek in the cafeteria.  One wonders how the University might describe a rape or murder victim. Could such an offense to a victim be any greater than that supposedly suffered by the Muslim students who were forced to discuss their propaganda with somebody who did not agree with them?

The defamation suit now has a clear path to trial. Defendants include Dean Dumbleton, Rev. Dennis Holtschneider, President of DePaul, and the university itself. We will continue to cover the case, and can hardly wait for Dean Dumbleton's testimony on the stand.