Monday, October 6, 2008

VICTORY! Political Expression IS Legal on Campus

Imagine my relief.

If you are scratching your head about this one, you don't know either

a) Illinois politics and the level of arrogance in office; or
b) academic administration and the level of incompetence. . . .

but there is a happy ending and precedent for university presidents to demonstrate some common sense and independence. Read on:

1. The state requires all employees to pass an ethics exam to keep future governors and their friends ethical and out of prison. Oops. Let me rewrite: The state requires all employees to pass an ethics exam so THEY remain ethical (governors will still be convicted of crime in grand Illinois tradition).

2. The ethics law--passed after Governor George Ryan went to prison--forbids partisan political activity on state property. The exam tests whether you know promising a contract to your neighbors, the Sopranos, is illegal. Also, you must not show political favoritism by using your university phone to fund raise for Mike Rezko or his friend Barack Obama (not being partisan here, just keeping an Illinois focus).

3. Faculty are really revved up about this election. Obama is their guy and they wear his button on their lapels (or t-shirts, if they got lost somewhere in the Sixties time zone).

4. University of Illinois Ethics Office issues newsletter reeducating employees about the ethics law and even extends it--if only hypothetically--to campaign buttons and bumper stickers! No word on whether a strong-felt wink reveals (illegal) support for Sarah Palin.

5. Inspector General Gilbert Jimenez, the same schmuck who busted employees for passing their ethics exam too quickly, backs this interpretation of the law. U of I students lead a "civil disobedience" rally for Obama (who else?) and it makes the Chicago Tribune.

5. FIRE, ACLU, and your intrepid moderator (as president of the Illinois Association of Scholars) blast the University of Illinois for being on the wrong side of common sense, the Constitution, and a lot of pissed-off professors (Jimenez even extended the ban on campaign buttons to students!).

HAPPY ENDING: University of Illinois president B. Joseph White issues a "simple message" that actually defends free speech and challenges the state to define its problematic ethics law. Yippee!


Anonymous said...

Dude...political expression on campus was never illegal. Enjoy your "victory!"

i-History said...


You haven't been around much or haven't observed what is going on in higher education.

Remember out teeny-weeny, out-of-the-way speech zone from a few years ago? Go to and you'll find a lot worse.

Remember the speech code we have in drag (part of a current controversy)?

Remember the student expelled for protesting the building of a parking garage at another college? He posted his satirical protest ON FACEBOOK.

I could go on but grab _Shadow University_ or one of the 100 books on the topic.

Anonymous said...

I repeat, political expression on campus is not illegal. There are no laws against political expression on campus. The content of the speech cannot be questioned, but time and place can be controlled. In other words, "you can't say that here, but you can say that over there." Check with the Supreme Court.

i-History said...

I have asked _SIU_ to check with Supreme Court repeatedly, yet the university has to be dragged into Court to follow the law. What you say might be true in theory but not "as applied" at SIUC.

Ask the Christian Legal Society why they had to sue for their 1st amendment rights -- and won an important religious freedom precedent at the 7th Circuit Court.

Ask why the drafters of the sexual harassment code leave out the Supreme Court's language "severe, persistent, or pervasive" from the Davis v. Monroe (1999) decision.

What good are your rights as determined by the high court if you have to keep suing and filing complaints with the university? "Honored in the breach" comes to mind.

i-History said...

PS: Add the DOJ consent decree: SIU Legal Counsel conceded that the statewide program of race-exclusive scholarships could not withstand legal challenge under the Supreme Court's ruling in the Gratz and Grutter cases (2003).

The prior legal counsel (Peter Ruger) said SIU had to change. As a member of the Affirmative Action Advisory Committee, I stated that SIU needed to change its civil rights policies. The SIU reaction? "Go away."

Do you see a pattern?

Anonymous said...

A pattern, yes. But your headline says, "VICTORY! Political Expression IS Legal on Campus."

I don't want to nitpik with a university professor, much less one who sees himself as some sort of freedom fighter for the First Amendment, but political expression on campus has never been illegal. And you claim victory because of a statement issued by the U of I President. Well, if that is your definition of victory...keep up the fight!

i-History said...

Obviously, my friend, you didn't note the sarcasm in the title or the first line of my blog entry. I suppose that is lost on some.

You obviously didn't appreciate the earlier, more substantial victories on campus I cited -- none of which would have happened if folks like you said "we already have those rights." Yeah, right. Anyway, this is a pissing match where there are no specifics on the other side, so I'll let you believe whatever it is you believe. If this is the "best of all possible worlds," then "be happy!"

Let's hear from *others*, because I have a book to write and two other blogs. I'll end with the Clash:

"You have the right to free speech. As long as you're not dumb enough to actually try it."

Stay tuned: I'll have experts chime in with a "Know Your Rights" series of guest entries.