The Case of Jason Kilborn and What We Can Learn From It
What happens when pressure from a law school's Office for Access and Equity, campus minority groups, and a renowned civil rights leader targets one particular tenured law professor who's just trying to do his job? You get a showdown taking place in the court of public opinion between that faculty member, Jason Kilborn, and the University of Illinois Chicago's John Marshall Law School.
For those unfamiliar with the incident, it all began when Professor Kilborn gave his “Civil Procedure II” class an exam. On that 50-question test, one item described a hypothetical scenario in which an ex-employee sued her former company. During a discussion with the firm's attorney, the exam question explained, the woman said “that she quit her job at Employer after she attended a meeting in which other managers expressed their anger at Plaintiff, calling her a “n____” and “b____.”
Kilborn did not use these terms directly to refer to anyone—the exam question was quoting a nonexistent person who herself was quoting another nonexistent person. Nevertheless, several individual members of the class, along with the Black Law Students Association, complained about their professor's use of these expurgated words, calling them “deeply offensive,” hurtful, and distressing.
Kilborn apologized as soon as he heard of the complaints, but the damage had already been done.
From there, the situation began to spiral. The professor's words were twisted by a student who accused him of making homicidal threats. There were allegations that Kilborn had compared members of minority communities to “cockroaches” during a classroom discussion; an audio recording of the discussion in question proved that no such comparison had been made. A petition was circulated. The well-known civil rights activist and politician, the Rev. Jesse L. Jackson, Sr., attended a student rally demanding that Kilborn step down or be terminated by the university.
Back in Class, but Damage Done
The upshot of the whole complicated situation is that Professor Kilborn will enroll in an online diversity training course and work with an instructional advisor before returning to teaching in the fall semester of 2022. His spring semester classes will be taught by other instructors, although Kilborn will continue to receive full pay and benefits during that time.
Many arguments have been made in op-eds and blogs, and doubtless in the halls, classrooms and cafeterias of the University of Illinois Chicago, touting the incident as a cautionary tale. It certainly does serve as a reminder that overeager administrators, perhaps unduly influenced by student coalitions and campus activism, can go too far in their pursuit of political correctness and their pandering to sensitive scholars demanding trigger warnings.
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