ELMHURST — An Elmhurst College music professor has filed a lawsuit against the school and its student newspaper, alleging he was defamed in articles about a class seating chart on which he made notes about physical and racial descriptions of some of his students.
Timothy Hays, the music business director at Elmhurst, filed the suit March 8 in DuPage County court, naming the school and its president, Troy VanAken, as well as the student newspaper, its faculty adviser, a student journalist and others.
In the suit, Hays said his reputation suffered and he was cast in a bad light in three articles printed about him in The Leader, which is the college's student newspaper.
In a statement released Friday through his attorney, Hays said he felt he had "to file this suit to clear my name and to protect others from this type of hardship."
The paper, citing information from April Edwards, vice president for academic affairs and dean of the faculty, reported in November that the college was conducting a Title IX investigation against Hays after a student had obtained a copy of a seating chart Hays made for one of his classes. Title IX is the federal education barring sex discrimination.
On the chart, Hays made notes beneath the names of some students to describe them, such as "black" for one student, "Hispanic" for another, and "cute" for a female student, according to the suit and the newspaper article.
The article, quoting Edwards, who was also named in the suit, said the language on the chart was deemed inappropriate and brought a reprimand from the school for Hays.
The article "harmed (Hays') reputation" and "attacked his integrity," the suit said.
According to the suit, ""Dr. Hays, much like thousands of other educators, creates and maintains a seating chart to remind him of the students' names and has some identifiers for these students. This seating chart is a private paper which is not meant for distribution to students or to the public and contains Dr. Hays' private and personal notes."
In the suit, Hays said one of his students photographed the chart when Hays had left the classroom. The student forwarded the photo to a student, who is named in the suit as a Jane Doe. That student then sent the image to the student newspaper, the suit said.
In December the newspaper printed an article saying Hays had "attacked" the class following publication of the seating chart article, and students complained to college officials, who brought in a different teacher to replace Hays for the remainder of the semester.
The paper followed up in February with a story from a 2007 Elmhurst graduate who said that while she was a student, Hays "cornered" her in stairwell at the college music building and "looked down my shirt." The former student said she reported the incident to college officials, but nothing came of it.
In the suit, Hays says those claims are false and he accuses the school and the student journalist of publishing the story with "reckless disregard for the truth."
A college spokeswoman declined to comment on the suit. Faculty adviser Ron Wiginton also declined to comment. Attempts to reach the journalist were not successful.
In his statement Friday, Hays said he filed the suit "with a with a very heavy heart as I never in my wildest dreams ever thought I would be in this position."
"I love teaching at Elmhurst College," Hays said. "This institution has been my home for 34 years and I have had the great pleasure of teaching some of the finest students in the world. However, this past year the school has taken a very sharp turn from shaping young minds to conforming to them."
He said he has "been begging the administration to help me for months, but I have been ignored. The school that I love has ordered me to remain silent, while it destroys my reputation and my health."