University of Vermont

University Communications

Free Speech Advocate to Speak at UVM Oct. 22

In a public talk, "Shut Up and Teach: Using the Courts to Suppress Free Speech, Academic Freedom, and Shared Governance," Loretta Capeheart, tenured professor at Northeastern Illinois University and free speech advocate, will discuss her experience as plaintiff against NEIU.

Capeheart sued the university for defamation and for denying her a chair position and performance pay increases — all because of her activism on behalf of students and faculty. A federal judge concluded that public university faculty have no right to free speech in their work or regarding their workplace and may be sanctioned for their speech by an employer.

On Sept. 29, the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals overturned parts of the lower court’s decision. But an Illinois judge used the Illinois Citizen Participation Act to grant immunity to NEIU and its vice president from slander and defamation charges. This law was passed to protect citizens who speak out publicly against powerful corporate and governmental interests. This part of the case now proceeds to state court. Unless overturned on appeal, the earlier ruling makes Capeheart liable for the university’s legal expenses in addition to her own, which have exceeded $100,000, and sets a precedent that any individual who speaks out against a corporate or governmental entity could be sued for slander and held liable for the legal tab.

Her talk, free and open to the public, will take place Monday, Oct. 22 at 4 p.m. in the Davis Center's Sugar Maple Ballroom.

The event is sponsored by United Academics AAUP/AFT with the UVM Women’s and Gender Studies Program, the Will Miller Social Justice Lecture Series, UVM International Socialists, and UVM Students for Peace and Global Justice/Students Stand Up.

Information: (802) 656-4171.