A University of Washington lecturer is suing university leaders over his free speech rights, claiming he was branded an ‘outcast’ for a statement he made about indigenous peoples in the north -western Pacific in the curriculum of a computer course.
UW’s computer science department suggests that professors include an acknowledgment of indigenous lands in the curriculum. Such acknowledgments are increasingly common in corporate and regional government events and publications.
Stuart RegesUW teaching professor at the Paul G. Allen School of Computer Science, made his own statement for a Computer Programming II course last winter, according to the lawsuit: “I acknowledge that by the theory of the work of the property , the Coast Salish people cannot claim historic ownership of almost any of the land now occupied by the University of Washington.
Allen School Principal Madeleine Balazinska – who is named as a defendant – told Reges in an email to retract the statement, according to the lawsuit, saying it was “inappropriate” and “offensive”.
The complaint, filed by Reges and the Foundation for Individual Rights and Expression (FIRE), alleges that university leaders discriminated against Reges by subjecting him to a disciplinary investigation after he insisted that he had the right to retain the statement. The UW also reportedly created a separate “ghost” class for students taught by a different instructor.
Reges, who has been a UW instructor since 2004, has a First Amendment right to free speech on the college campus, the lawsuit claims.
The lawsuit seeks to end alleged retaliation against Reges for his “protected academic speech” and eliminate UW policy governing faculty expression which it says is too broad and vague due to language regulating speech. “unacceptable or inappropriate” speech and conduct.
The defendants in the lawsuit, filed in federal court in Seattle, are Balazinska, UW president Ana Mari Cauce, the school’s vice principal Allen Dan Grossman and Nancy Allbritton, dean of the College of Engineering.
“University administrators turned me into an outcast on campus because I included ground recognition that wasn’t progressive enough for them,” Reges said in a statement. Press release released Wednesday by FIRE, a nonprofit that supports free speech on campus and elsewhere. “Land acknowledgments are performative acts of compliance that must be resisted, even if it lands you in court,” Reges added.
The UW is reviewing the complaint, according to a spokesperson. “The university continues to assert that it has not violated the First Amendment rights of Stuart Reges and we look forward to taking this matter to court,” the spokesperson said.
The Allen School does not require instructors to provide field reconnaissance statements. But it does provide instructors with best practice guidelines for inclusive teaching that indicate such statements can make a program more inclusive. The guidelines provide a sample statement that instructors can follow:
“The University of Washington recognizes the Coast Salish peoples of this land, the land that touches the shared waters of all tribes and bands of the Suquamish, Tulalip, and Muckleshoot Nations.”
Reges, who is not on a tenure track, said his statement reflected philosopher John Locke’s theory that property rights are established by work.
Controversy made headlines earlier this year. At the time, a UW spokesperson provided the following statement to Higher Ed:
“Commonly used land acknowledgments are not politicized statements of land claims or ownership, nor the expression of personal views on land ownership, but rather statements of fact, the purpose being to acknowledge that the university is on the historic ancestral lands of the Coast Salish people. ”
Reges has come under fire for controversial statements in the past. In a Trial 2018 he claimed that women are underrepresented in IT due to personal preferences and choices, and that “having 20% women in tech is probably the best we can achieve”.
The area around the University of Washington includes Arboretum Creek, where the village of Duwamish Hikw’al’al (“Big House”) once stood. The UW campus also includes the Intellectual House (wǝɫǝbʔaltxʷ) which provides a gathering space for Native American and Alaska Native students, faculty, and staff.
Read the full text of the lawsuit below.