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Prof. Thomas E. Klocek
A judge dismissed a lawsuit against DePaul University brought by a professor who contends he was branded by school administrators as racist and bigoted for challenging a student’s allegation that Israel treats Palestinians the way Hitler treated Jews.
And while school administrators at the Chicago-area university allege that Professor Thomas E. Klocek behaved violently in the argument, the professor disputes the charges.
His attorney, Andy Norman, told WND that he suspects Klocek was both suspended and publicly criticized by DePaul, not for any misbehavior in the context of the argument, but for the content of his views.
“I think it’s certainly a large element of it,” Norman said. “Klocek was singled out because he took a pro-Israel stance and argued it vigorously with students who were very anti-Israel. The students’ viewpoint moved to DePaul’s administration as well. I think the content was a factor in what DePaul did.”
The defamation suit was launched in 2005 after DePaul suspended Klocek without a hearing for disagreeing with Muslim activist students over Arab-Israeli issues, Islamic terrorism and other issues in an out-of-classroom debate.
Following the argument and a subsequent complaint filed by students, two university administrators wrote separate accounts of the incident – one printed in the school paper, the other published in Denver’s Rocky Mountain News – contending that Klocek had “verbally attacked” the students over their religious beliefs and ethnicity. The university then suspended Klocek without pay and refused him further employment until he made apology.
Klocek sued the school for maligning his “integrity and professional competence.”
Klocek’s attorney at the time explained in a statement: “When [school administrators] characterized that professor Klocek attacked students’ ‘religious beliefs and ethnicity,’ DePaul hung a Scarlet ‘R’ of racism on a loyal and much loved professor who has served DePaul University for 14 years without complaint. DePaul worked to ruin Klocek’s reputation because of the content of his comments, not his conduct.”
Two judges independently ruled in the case that Klocek’s complaints against DePaul University for defamation and invasion of privacy could proceed to trial. Judge Charles R. Winkler of Circuit Court of Cook County, however, reversed the decision and dismissed the case.
As WND reported, Klocek’s case began at a student activities fair, after he happened to visit the table of the Students for Justice in Palestine. When the professor took a handout that showed an Israeli bulldozer destroying a Palestinian house, he began discussing the Middle East with the students manning the table.
Klocek says one of the students likened the Israeli treatment of the Palestinians to Hitler’s treatment of the Jewish people – a statement to which he took offense. The professor challenged the students by quoting an Arab source concluding that although most Muslims are not terrorists, most of today’s terrorists are Muslims.
The student group subsequently filed a complaint against Klocek with Dr. Susanne Dumbleton, dean of the School for New Learning, resulting in his suspension. The dean took action without the normally required hearing.
Writing about the incident in the school paper, Dumbleton stated: “No student anywhere should ever have to be concerned that they will be verbally attacked for their religious belief or ethnicity.”
DePaul President Rev. Dennis Holtschneider also wrote a letter slamming Klocek, which was published in April in Denver’s Rocky Mountain News.
Wrote Holtschneider: “Last September, Klocek acted in a belligerent and menacing manner toward students who were passing out literature at a table in the cafeteria. He raised his voice, threw pamphlets at students, pointed his finger near their faces and displayed a gesture interpreted as obscene. … DePaul offered to give Klocek a spring quarter class assignment if he met with the students to apologize for his behavior and if the program director could drop by his class to ensure that the health issues that affected his teaching were resolved. He refused.”
Norman told WND that Holtschneider’s letter is an example of the libel alleged in the lawsuit, since the professor claims there was no shouting, throwing of paper, threats or obscene gestures exchanged during the argument.
Following his suspension, Klocek further rejected DePaul’s demand that he apologize for what he said.
“My question: For what specifically?” Klocek asked. “An apology for the content of my speech? For what I said? It would be wrong indeed to censure the students for their ideas and beliefs. However, the university administration, realizing that apologizing for my opinions would amount to an unwarranted censorship of ideas, now asks me to apologize for conduct in which I have not engaged.
“The draconian penalties to which I have been subjected are deeply distressing in light of the central issue here: free speech,” Klocek said.
A statement from Norman promises an appeal of Judge Winkler’s dismissal of the case.
“We believe that Winkler is in error and are confident we will have his decision reversed in the appellate court,” states Norman. “We still look forward to a public trial where DePaul students and the public can judge for themselves whether certain administrators silenced Tom Klocek because a few Muslim activists wanted his opinions repressed.”