The president of Chicago State University pressured a high-level administrator at the school to file a bogus sexual harassment claim against a faculty member who criticized him.
According to new allegations filed as part of an ongoing lawsuit against the school, LaShondra Peebles, formerly the school’s interim vice president of enrollment and student affairs, said that she was ordered by president Wayne Watson to accuse Professor Phillip Beverly of sexual harassment.
Beverly is a contributor to the blog CSU Faculty Voice, which sharply criticized Watson’s policies and accused him of severe mismanagement of the school. He is one of two plaintiffs in a lawsuit against the university, claiming it sought to illegally shut down the blog via an overbroad “cyberbullying” policy and retaliate against professors who contributed to it.
Peebles is also suing CSU, claiming her refusal to accuse Beverly caused Watson to fire her in June 2014.
In her filed statement, Peebles describes Watson as practically obsessed with Beverly, and says she heard numerous conversations between Watson and other officials over how they might fire Beverly and destroy his blog.
“Watson advised me that he wanted to be immediately informed if Professor Beverly spoke with me and that I was to report the substance of any conversations with Beverly to Watson,” says Peebles’ statement. In line with this request, in September 2013, Peebles says she reported a conversation she had with Beverly regarding the school’s enrollment strategy. During the conversation, Beverly is said to have talked about his military experience and how it was important to have a “wingman” to “watch your back.”
When she reported the conversation to Watson, Peebles says he seized upon the wingman comment as a “threat,” even though she said she did not feel threatened.
Several months later, Watson brought up the conversation and told Peebles that she and two other female employees needed to file a sexual harassment claim.
“I told Watson that I did not feel threatened or harassed by Beverly’s conversation,” the statement says. “Nevertheless, Watson asserted that I had been harassed and that I ‘did not realize it.'”
“The discussion became heated, with individuals telling me to file a claim against Professor Beverly,” says Peebles. “I was accused of not being a ‘team player.’ I became distressed by the discussion and left the meeting.”
CSU has categorically denied Peebles’ claims, releasing a statement to The Chicago Tribune saying they are “a complete lie and totally false.”
However, the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, which is backing Beverly’s lawsuit, says this is just the latest sign of a public university whose administration is totally out of control.
“The Chicago State administration has repeatedly demonstrated its willingness to go to remarkable lengths to suppress dissent on campus,” said FIRE President and CEO Greg Lukianoff. “Between the bogus accusations of trademark infringement, the misuse of university policy, and now new revelations that staff were perhaps pressured to file false harassment complaints, the court should take these allegations very seriously. Chicago State’s repeated attempts to shred the Constitution must end.”
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