Support Loretta Capehart: Persecuted at Northeastern Illinois U. and Denied Academic Freedom; A Comment on Provost Lawrence P. Frank and Age Discrimination

Northeastern Illinois University Provost Lawrence P. Frank

Dr Lawrence P. Frank, provost  and vice president for academic affairs at N.E.I.U., was dean of the School of Arts and Sciences at St Xavier University where I teach. He left for the provost job at N.E.I.U. in Fall 2002. In Spring semester of 1996 during a job-search departmental vote, Dr Frank repeatedly raised the issue of age regarding a woman who had been brought to campus. Frankly I don’t think school deans should be voting within departments on a job search. He was tenured in the department at the rank of professor but was not a department faculty member because he was reassigned to other duties. This person basically got TWO votes: one as a faux faculty member and the other as dean. Just arrogant and outrageous!!! 

Dr Frank insisted there were not enough young people in Arts and Sciences and was emphatic in wanting to hire a younger candidate than the woman. I aggressively addressed questions about the propriety, if not legality, of discussing this aspect of a candidate’s profile. He shrieked at me with vehemence and rage that I would make the charge of ageism. But that is what it was, pure and simple! I have never forgotten this incident and to this day churn at the thought of being rebuked in such an abusive and disrespectuful manner in front of my department colleagues, for daring to make an ethical and warranted challenge to an out-of-control, ageist administrator. I can assure you if I ever again encounter such administrative misconduct and egregious violations of civil rights law, I will use all appropriate means to engage such excess. I think Dr Frank should have been reprimanded and fired from St Xavier for this single incident of palpable and irrefutable age discrimination in employment practices.

The following was sent to me by the distingusihed University of Texas Professor Dana Cloud.

Dear Supporters and Signers (and potential signers and supporters) of Justice for Loretta Capeheart petition. The petition is at

I am attaching background information on this case for those unfamiliar with it.

Thank you all for your support and your continued commitment to free speech and academic freedom. As of today, we have 700 signatures, including those of prominent scholars Noam Chomsky and Howard Zinn. Please join them, if you have not, in signing the petition to support Loretta. Also, please forward this call far and wide as you see fit.

There is an emerging front in the struggle for academic freedom. Some university leaders are attacking outspoken faculty on the grounds that university employees have no free speech rights when it comes to criticizing their own institutions. This attack epitomizes Northeastern  Illinois University¹s harassment of justice studies professor Loretta Capeheart, who has been targeted by her administration for her outspokenness for workers¹ rights in a 2004 faculty strike, against the Iraq war, in defense of student protesters, and for increased representation of minority scholars at NEIU. In retaliation, she was denied merited awards and an appointment to chair of her department‹a position to which she was elected. NEIU Vice President Melvin Terrell publicly defamed Capeheart, accusing her without  grounds of stalking a student.

Capeheart is suing Terrell for defamation, alongside NEIU¹s President and Provost {Lawrence P. Frank} for retaliation and violation of her constitutional right to free speech. Incredibly, the administrators¹ response argues that Capeheart, as a state employee, may not sue the University or its officials, contravene their positions, question their conduct, or speak as a faculty member on matters of public concern. Their motion to dismiss the case states that clothed in her authority as a faculty member,² Capeheart criticized University policy, ³even going so far as to disagree with the stated positions of the Provost.² ³It is very middle ages,² Capehart said, ³like the lord vs. the serf.²

Unfortunately, the administration has frightening legal precedent, according to the AAUP.  The Supreme Court¹s 2006 decision in Garcetti v. Ceballos held that state employees are not afforded first amendment protection if they are speaking on subjects relevant to their professional duties; When UC Irvine professor Juan Hong angered University administrators by opposing the replacement of tenure-track faculty by term lecturers, he was denied a merit salary increase. The Court ruled against Hong, citing Garcetti.

However, there is some good news to report on Loretta’s case!  On March 2, 2009, Judge Blanche Manning, U.S. District Court Judge, Northern Illinois District agreed to hear Loretta¹s case despite the university¹s arguments that it was ³futile² for her to claim any right to free speech. Please see the judge¹s comments below.

There is still much to do to guarantee justice for Loretta and to defend our rights to free speech and academic freedom.  We are asking that you  continue to forward the link to the petition to others concerned with academic freedom and urge them to sign on to the petition.  A press conference will be called for the petition delivery to NEIU President Sharon Hahs in April. An announcement will be forthcoming.

Please sign at , and
encourage others to do so.

Thanks again for your support.

Statement from Judge Manning:

“The defendants oppose the amendment on the basis that it would be futile. Specifically, they contend that the First Amendment protects only speech by public employees that addresses matters of public concern as opposed to matters involving their official duties. See Garcetti v. Ceballos, 547 U.S. 410, 417 (2006) (³when public employees make statements pursuant to their official duties, the employees are not speaking as citizens for First Amendment purposes, and the Constitution does not insulate their communications from employer discipline.²) The defendants contend that the speech at issue was not protected by the First Amendment because (i) it addressed university policy, (ii) occurred at university-sponsored events which Capeheart attended as a university employee, and (iii) concerned her official duties. However, as Capeheart argues, the speech also addressed matters of public concern such as discrimination and the ability of students to express anti-war views. At this juncture, without the benefit of a full record including details of Capeheart¹s speech and the nature of the events she attended, it would be premature to determine whether her speech was protected by the First Amendment. Accordingly, futility is not a basis for denying Capeheart¹s motion for leave to amend.” Judge Manning, 3-2-09

Dana L. Cloud Associate Professor Graduate Advisor, Director of Graduate Studies Department of Communication Studies University of Texas 1 University Station A1105, CMA 7.114 Austin, TX 78712

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