UW professor sues school over language in syllabus regarding land acknowledgment

A University of Washington professor is suing the school over allegations that UW silenced him in a free speech violation.

Computer science professor Stuart Reges is facing disciplinary action for stating on his syllabus that Native Americans have no historical claim to campus land.

It’s a common practice in the Pacific Northwest to acknowledge that the land here has been tied to Native Americans going back millenia.

The UW campus itself could be considered part of that broader land acknowledgment. In fact, the UW Libraries website has the acknowledgement posted for anyone to read.

Reges, though, is challenging the university’s directive on the land acknowledgment statement with a lawsuit.

“I think that I have a very strong case. I’m disappointed that it’s come to this,” Reges said. “I think it’s important to do this fight.

“With the land acknowledgment, there was this idea that you had to affirm a certain view of American history, a very cynical view that we stole land from Indian tribes. I thought I would give it a try to see how they would react if I didn’t affirm that version of history.”

Court documents say university administrators punished Reges for his statement, asserting that it caused “a disruption to instruction.”

Documents also say that the university created a shadow course to divert students from his class and launched an investigation that has dragged on for months.

That’s led Reges to file a lawsuit. His attorneys assert that UW does not have the right to control his opinion or speech.

Reges said student complaints brought the issue to the university’s attention, though he is unsure if any of them were taking his class.

“I would have been very happy to discuss theories of land ownership or why I’m doing what I’m doing on this broader issue of diversity, equity and inclusion, I just didn’t have any students take me up on it,” Reges said.

KIRO 7 reached out to the university and a spokesperson released the following statement on the suit by Reges:

“The University of Washington is aware of the complaint. The university continues to assert that it hasn’t violated Stuart Reges’ first amendment rights and we look forward to presenting our position if called to do so.”

“It’s a broader agenda where they’re trying to limit what opinions can be expressed on campus,” said Reges.