Last year, Chicago State University briefly required that all professors have prior approval to talk to any reporter, use social media or engage in most forms of public communication. Facing complaints that the policy was inappropriate and illegal, the university backed down.
But the university -- where administrators have frequently clashed with faculty members -- this week is demanding the shutdown of a faculty blog that has been highly critical of the university. The chief lawyer for the university sent a "cease and desist" letter to the professors who run the blog demanding that they shut it down.
The letter says that they can't use the university's name or symbols, and further the letter cites the blog's content, saying that "the lack of civility and professionalism expressed on the blog violates the university's values and policies."
The blog has responded in two ways: It published the "cease and desist letter" and changed its name from "Chicago State University Faculty Voice Blog" to "Crony State University Faculty Blog," adding that the appropriate university slogan would be "Where we hire our friends." The crony reference is about a frequent subject of the blog: faculty concerns that people without appropriate qualifications are being hired at the university.
The letter -- from Patrick B. Cage, the general counsel -- says that the use of the university's trademarked name and logo "falsely denotes association with the university." While there is no doubt that the blog is about Chicago State, the content is quite critical and is not what one would normally see in a publication that was in fact produced by a university. Headlines on postings in October, for example, included: "Is it a Machiavellian or Orwellian world at CSU?" and "Where Does the Money Go? The Metastatic Growth of our Administration."
Taking action against a blog over "civility" issues is also likely to be controversial. Faculty advocates frequently say that "civility" -- while a commendable goal -- is frequently cited as a way to attack professors who criticize administrators.
A university spokesman denied to The Chicago Tribune that the legal demand had anything to do with the fights between faculty members and administrators. "That's not why they got the letter. It's because they're using the trademark without authorization," he said.