The American Association of University Professors (AAUP), university professors, and students gathered in the Lower Level of the Northeastern Illinois University (NEIU) Library to protest NEIU President Sharon K. Hahs’ injustice and malfeasance directed at Doctor Loretta Capeheart, WZRD, and Doctor John Boyle on Sept. 27. While the AAUP is currently advocating on these cases, the meeting’s conclusion was clear: the result of the cases are not only important to the individuals, rather, they are pertinent to all university professors and students alike. Doctor Capeheart’s free-speech lawsuit and Doctor Boyle’s tenure denial will no doubt set important precedents controlling the action of the president. The WZRD issue is important to the academic freedom of university students and university media outlets.
The case of Loretta Capeheart is well known throughout the NEIU community. Capeheart had advocated on behalf of the students arrested due to protest of the CIA recruitment at NEIU. According to the Chicago Reader, Capeheart, “sued in both federal and state court, charging defamation and retaliation toward her for publicly criticizing NEIU’s faculty hiring practices and for antiwar activities, including speaking up for students arrested during a military recruitment event on campus.” Anyone interested in supporting Capeheart, a professor who has shown support to students that protested military recruitment, should head over to Justice4Loretta.com and show their support.
Hahs’ termination of WZRD was a trick worthy of Nimue. According to the WZRD website, NEIU “seized control” of the radio station on June 29th. In an impromptu meeting, Wizards were handed a document with “false and baseless charges of bias and discrimination against current and former student club members, as well as equally untrue and unsubstantiated claims of financial improprieties and theft of official documents” as reason for termination. Thankfully, as recently as three weeks ago, WZRD has been reestablished as the voice of university freedom.
Following Doctor Capeheart’s and the WZRD’s trouble, Hahs supported the tenure denial of linguistic professor John Boyle. Professor Boyle’s trouble began in Oct. 2011 when he was accused of “…‘unethical’ advising practices and ‘underhand’ action in recruiting students to switch their minors from TESL to LING” by TESL’s associate professor Dr. William Stone. His absurd allegations stem from a discussion with an unnamed student (the student submitted a complaint on Feb. 9, 2012, several months after the conversation) in which he or she mentioned that Professor Boyle “instructed TESL minors to switch to LING.” According AAUP’s Peter Kirstein, The University Personnel Committee report in lieu of events, “found no evidence of misadvising students and unanimously concluded such charges were ‘unsubstantiated.’” Furthermore, Hahs has stated explicitly that Professor Boyle’s denial of tenure originates from a missed application deadline. While deadlines are no doubt serious business in the world of academia, one complaint in a six year period and a missed deadline should not seize tenure from a professor, especially one as exceptional as Professor Boyle, and begs one to question foul play.
Professor Boyle specializes in: “syntax, morphology, Native American Languages (Siouan languages), second language acquisition, language documentation and revitalization and language pedagogy.” As a tenure track professor, he has shown exemplary performance within the field of linguistics and beyond. Beginning his NEIU career in 2007, Professor Boyle has accomplished a large body of impressive work including: producing the largest searchable Hidatsa-English word list; presenting at four invited presentations (AAANACA, U of C, Northwestern University, and Max Plank Institute); having been the undergraduate minor advisor, a member of the Grade Appeals Committee, and a Library liaison; and presiding over the 17th, 18th, 19th, and 20th annual Student Research and Creative Activities Symposium.
Additionally, Professor’s Boyle commendable record extends beyond research and university services. He boasts a 96% student rating in “effectiveness of instruction;” a 96% student rating in “ability to encourage students;” as well as 97% student rating in fairness and respect. 51 of his students have presented peer-reviewed papers in the NEIU Student Research and Creative Activities Symposiums; 29 have presented peer-reviewed papers at The Siouan and Caddoan Languages Conferences; “7 students presented papers at the annual meeting of the Society for the study of Indigenous Languages of the Americas and The Linguistic Society of America.” In Addition, Professor Boyle oversaw “8 student Capstone papers.”
Outraged at the thought of losing a beloved teacher, mentor, and liason, linguistic students and faculty have collaborated and written to numerous university officials. In a letter dated Sept. 4, 2012, Professor Boyle’s former Masters Student (now English Composition and Grammar professor at UIC) Mimi Rosenbush requested Hahs and the Board of NEIU to revisit the “egregious decision,” stating that Professor Boyle “occupies an all too rare a space.” DePaul’s Professor and former student of Professor Boyle, Winifred Whelan, in a letter dated Aug. 14, 2012, wrote to Carlos Azcoitia, Chair of the Board of Trustees at NEIU, stating that in all her “experience of schooling” Professor Boyle “is one of the most knowledgeable, enthusiastic, patient, and thorough teachers” she knows.
In addition to an enthusiastic student following, Professor Boyle has also received numerous recommendations from university staff and department heads. On Oct. 26, 2011, Professor Boyle’s Department of Linguistics, “unanimously recommended him for tenure and promotion to associate professor.” Judith Kaplan-Weinger, Chair of the Department Personnel Committee, stated that, “the performance of his primary duties of teaching [was] rated as superior.” Furthermore, on Feb. 20, 2012, The University Personnel Committee, “unanimously recommended the granting of tenure to Professor Boyle.”
Students and faculty have expressed their disgust and disappointment on “Rally for Ling” Facebook page. Disheartened, Loretta Capeheart wrote: “The decision of President Hahs to not tenure John Boyle after he was recommended for tenure and promotion at every other level of the process is extremely troubling. The president is the last in the tenure decision for good reason. She knows the least about Professor Boyle’s work. It is highly unusual for a positive decision at all other levels to be turned into a negative decision at the last step. The only thing that could serve justice at this point is for President Hahs to remove herself from the process and allow the positive recommendations of those who know Professor Boyle best to stand.” Additionally, James Kerela stated: “I find it hard to believe that the Trustees gave careful consideration to the opinions of the students, the faculty, or any of Dr. Boyle’s colleagues from around the world, that is, people who know him and hold him in the highest regard. His department would be an inestimable loss to NEIU and the Trustee’s vote has already caused damage to NEIU’s reputation.”
What could have possessed Professor Hahs into denying tenure to a professor who is held in the highest esteem by colleagues, students, and administrators? Many believe that the nonsensical verdict originates from a vote of “no confidence” directed at President Hahs from the faculty, at the time, the chair of the faculty vote was headed by a linguistic professor. A blatant case of revenge, the actions of Professor Hahs communicate not only a misrecognition of Professor Boyle’s top-notch Curriculum Vitae but a misunderstanding of Professor Boyle’s benefit to the students.