Law Professors

UIC law prof must receive online diversity training, coaching before classroom return, letter says

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University of Illinois Chicago School of Law

The University of Illinois Chicago School of Law. Photo from Wikimedia Commmons.

A law professor who used abbreviated versions of the N-word and the B-word on a final exam must undergo diversity training “to facilitate his return to the classroom,” according to a Dec. 16 letter sent to the professor’s lawyer.

The University of Illinois Chicago School of Law will enroll the professor, Jason Kilborn, in an online diversity course and will retain an instructional adviser to work with Kilborn, according to the letter.

Brian Leiter’s Law School Reports posted the letter in a blog post noted by TaxProf Blog.

Because the training will take eight weeks, Kilborn’s classes this spring will be taught by other faculty, the letter said. During that time, Kilborn will receive full pay and benefits as he continues his scholarship and university work, according to the letter.

“It is anticipated that he will return to teaching in fall 2022,” the letter said.

Kilborn had faced student criticism after his December 2020 final exam in civil procedure included a hypothetical in which a plaintiff alleged that her managers had called her a “n- - - - -” and a “b- - - -.” Kilborn’s exam included only the first letter of the word followed by underlined blanks. The Black Law Students Association filed a complaint with the UIC’s Office for Access and Equity.

Other complaints surfaced, leading the Office for Access and Equity to conclude that Kilborn’s conduct was “sufficiently substantial and repeated” enough to interfere with Black students’ law school participation and constituted harassment.

Kilborn wouldn’t comment on whether he planned to take the training, but he told the ABA Journal that he planned to file a lawsuit. He said he had to hold the public institution accountable for abuse of due process, lack of fair notice and mischaracterization of facts.

Kilborn is represented by Wayne Giampietro, who is working with the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, a nonprofit civil liberties group that focuses on protecting free speech rights on college campuses.

“I think the letter is a severe violation of professor Kilborn’s rights,” Giampietro told the Journal in an email. “Since we have just received the letter and are in the process of determining what action to take regarding this matter, I have no further comment at this time.”

Kilborn told the Journal that he is being targeted because of a “huge misunderstanding, and that’s putting it charitably, as to what was said.”

He pointed to an article in the Chronicle of Higher Education titled, “Yes, This Is a Witch-Hunt,” which contends that the university is punishing Kilborn for things that he didn’t do. Kilborn says the article explains how the context and content of his comments have been mischaracterized.

One of the complaints against Kilborn is that he referred to racial minorities as “cockroaches.” Kilborn told the Journal that he didn’t call anyone a cockroach, and the allegation is “provably false,” a conclusion made by the Chronicle of Higher Education.

Kilborn made the comment during a classroom discussion on why defendants settle what they think is frivolous litigation, according to a recording obtained by the Chronicle of Higher Education. Kilborn said defendants fear that the public will learn about losses in frivolous cases, and “then all the cockroaches come out of the walls, they’re thinking, right?”

A May letter by the UIC’s Office for Access and Equity detailed other complaints, including a reference to “lynching” of white men in the media (for which Kilborn apologized) and his expression of “anger and displeasure” with students’ objections to the exam hypothetical that created retaliation concerns.

Kilborn says the office misstated facts and is misleading the public.

The university’s December letter said Kilborn must enroll in a Cornell University online course on teaching and learning in a diverse classroom, which consists of five modules requiring a two- to four-hour time commitment over five weeks. At the end of each module, Kilborn will be “asked to prepare a written self-reflection paper.”

The modules will be supplemented by other materials, such as readings, podcasts and videos.

In conjunction with the Cornell University classwork, Kilborn is asked to work one on one with an instructional adviser who is a practicing attorney who has significant experience in employment law and diversity-and-inclusion consulting, with a subspecialty in higher-education matters.

The letter said the university thinks that Kilborn will benefit from the training, which “is not punitive.”

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