Date: Wed, 7 Jan 2004
Subject: what happened at my Dec. 22 hearing? something for everybody!
I WAS BROUGHT UP ON charges of violating the City College's policy on using
the Colleges' email system. This is my report back on today's disciplinary
About a dozen Truman supporters met outside the president's small conference
room to support me and turn in a strong statement of support, signed by over
125 Truman employees, for free speech in the email system and standing
against punishment for my distributing information and ideas.
Kathy Krokar, Curriculum coordinator and coordinator union steward, gave
them to Dr. Helm along with a short statement. Five of us then entered the
hearing to meet with Truman President Phoebe Helm for the disciplinary
hearing which could have led to discipline up to and including termination:
Mike McHugh, president of AFSCME 3506; Tracy Kurowski, Secretary; Mike Ross,
AFSCME Council 31 rep; Jim Fennerty, head of Chicago's chapter of the
Lawyer's Guild; and me.
After nearly two hours of back and forth, we came to this agreement:
All charges will be dropped. I will not post any political material on the
email system for 8 weeks. During that time, Truman College will conduct a
wide discussion and debate on what would be the best guidelines for free
speech and academic freedom. This will include with several public seminars
and including email discussion. All Truman employees will have a chance to
decide what the best guidelines would be. This does not mean that the
District Office will necessarily adopt it.
I decided to accept this offer because it gives us all a chance to
collectively discuss how to best develop free speech in the electronic age,
it drops charges against me, and it does not bind me or anyone to accepting
a limited or 'ghettoized' version of political discourse. In effect, this
gives both sides - management and the workforce- two months to figure out
what they want.
Personally, I hope that we all make our voices heard, develop our own
thoughts, listen to each other and come to a consensus during this period.
Years of union and left wing politics has utterly convinced me that we,
together, must have the ability to hear others' voices, information and
views to reach the best decisions for ourselves as a workforce and as part
of the larger working class.
In this case, if so many hadn't come together over this threatened
discipline, aimed at my and at everyone's right to free speech, I would
never have come up with this creative resolution; it came from our group
Without the active, visible support from so many co-workers and our
discussions beforehand, I would not have been attuned to what this meant to
so many. That certainty helped me to to stand firm and to gain this
agreement. While I made the decision, everyone involved played a real role
and I thank you. Together, we've gotten this far.
Some support I produced for free speech and against any penalty:
* The statement of the 125+ Truman employees, with more circulating.
* The statement of the credit teachers/ AFT 1600 unit in support. Their
chapter chair, Tony Johnston, sent a letter to Dr. Helm stating the Faculty
Council's position against a separate email discussion list as 'ghettoizing'
such discussion and expressing support for my rights. (They had taken their
stand before CCC decided to bring me up on charges.)
* The fact that my emails to 'trall' actually fall within the guidelines of
the City Colleges' Mission Statement, the Technology Rules, and the
practices of City Colleges under Chancellor Watson. For example, Chancellor
Watson publicly challenged all City Colleges' employees to discuss, debate,
and learn about issues that affect our students and communicate with
students to learn their views on such things as the invasion of Iraq and the
economy. CCC, under his leadership, organized, filmed and broadcast two
* The statement of the AAUP (American Association of University Professors)
on free speech and electronic mail, which strongly defends the necessity of
open discussion of important issues extended from conventional to electronic
* Over 100 pages of Truman email from dozens of people, all showing that the
actual past practice of Truman College's email was consistent with our stand
for free speech.
* The fact that all of my emails together constitute no undue burden on the
technical resources of the College.
* The fact that I am the only person ever to face disciplinary charges for
this while many have participated- opening the question of discrimination
and retribution for my years of union activism and leadership.
Some of the give and take:
During the meeting, Mike Ross asked what I was being charged with, since the
two cited rules approved of using the District's technology for educational
purposes and that my various emails were disseminating information and views
about current events. He added that disseminating information is a
legally-protected area of free speech and First Amendment rights.
Dr. Helm replied that this was not an issue of free speech, but of violating
the Board's rules on technology. She interpreted these rules as forbidding
us all from sending information not pertinent to what she defined as
'college business'. I replied that she was adding a totally new dimension,
one that is not even mentioned in the Rules and goes against the educational
President Helm said that some were offended by views and facts I had posted;
in fact, one faculty member's complaint stimulated District officials to
begin this disciplinary hearing. President Helm offered, again, to have the
College set up a separate chat room or email list of those who volunteer to
be on it and drop the charges if I agreed.,
We replied that free speech will always 'offend' some people but that
outlawing such discussions means we'll only be free to agree, that we won't
be able to discuss important and contentious issues, like the occupation,
discrimination, class, race, and gender issues. While I did not refuse her
offer, we did say that doing this would go against the position of the
Faculty Council, the AAUP, and the interests of open discussion.
Out of this mix, we came up with the compromise resolution. What do you
think of it?
The current situtation:
Interim President Dr. Boyd and I met today (Wednesday, 1/7) and on Monday
and have begun forming a committee to plan our Truman community meetings on
this. In addition, we all still have this "trall" list to carry on
discussion and 'hear' each others' concerns as we think about all this.
What do you think? Should we have open access to post information and
opinions on trall with everyone free to read, not read, or delete? Would you
consider that offensive and prefer some alternative where you would not
receive anything in your trall email except administration approved
postings? Other alternatives? Concerns?
While I think that we all have every right to express our political opinions
and share information on 'trall', I am happy to suspend putting up political
messages for 8 weeks in exchange for this chance for us, as a workforce, to
decide what we want the guidelines to be. To me, this is a big gain on a
critical issue. It's a fact that we don't have 'freedom of the press (or
tv)' since we don't own any papers or stations so we can't control the
content, but we do have access to the internet and our email system. Jump
right in. It's our turn now. What do YOU think?
Earl Silbar, Adult Educator, Truman