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Chicago State University wants faculty blog shut down

Published: Tuesday, Nov. 12, 2013 10:52 a.m. CDT

CHICAGO (MCT) — A blog written by Chicago State University faculty members that has been critical of the school's administration was sent a "cease and desist" notice by university lawyers Monday, deepening an ongoing rift between a group of professors and administrators.

Online since 2009, the Faculty Voice Blog labeled itself "the faculty's uncensored voice" for the South Side campus. Phillip Beverly — a faculty senate officer and associate professor of political science — said he founded the site to challenge some of the school's leaders and policymaking. The site's latest post, for example, roundly criticizes CSU administrators and their hiring practices.

"I know, as a faculty member, I don't run the university. I can't stop what's going on there," Beverly said. "But I can shine the light of day on it. That's the purpose of the blog, to put into the public sphere what is happening in the name of the citizens of Illinois."

But in a Nov. 11 letter, Patrick Cage, a university vice president and its general counsel, said the site used university "trade names and marks" without permission. Cage also said the blog "violates the University's values and policies requiring civility and professionalism of all University faculty members."

Cage demanded that site administrators "immediately disable" the blog and provide written confirmation of that no later than Friday to "avoid legal action."

Roughly eight faculty members contributed to the site, Beverly said, under their own names or pseudonyms. The website used a picture of an on-campus Chicago State University sign and "CSU" hedge sculpture.

But Monday evening, after receiving the letter, Beverly changed the site's name to "Crony State University" and replaced its main image with a building from another campus. Beverly said he's also consulting with his attorney.

"We had that (old) picture up since April of 2009. I've actually gotten tired of it," Beverly said. "It's time for a change, and this is good enough reason to change it."

Chicago State has long struggled with poor graduation rates and financial mismanagement, and its president, Wayne Watson, has fought with school trustees over his leadership.

Tom Wogan, a university spokesman, said the legal notice was unrelated to quarrels between the administration and the school's faculty.

"That's not why they got the letter," Wogan said. "It's because they're using the trademark without authorization."

Last year, Chicago State officials instructed faculty and staff that only authorized university representatives could share information with the media -- and that everything from opinion pieces to social media communications could require prior approval.

Officials later said the policy was under review.

Beverly and other faculty contributors are free to blog, Wogan said, but cannot present themselves as authorized representatives of the university when they are not.

"Our concern, as far as protecting our trademark, is that this blog or any other blog would use the trademark without authorization," Wogan said.

(c)2013 the Chicago Tribune Distributed by MCT Information Services

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