FIRE, AAUP Warn University of Illinois about Proposed Electronic Communications Policy

By on September 9, 2011

In a joint letter sent today to University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign (UIUC) Chancellor Robert Easter, FIRE and American Association of University Professors (AAUP) President Cary Nelson (who is also a professor at UIUC) issued a strong warning about a proposed electronic communications policy that would sharply restrict student and faculty speech on campus. The UIUC Academic Senate is scheduled to vote on the policy this Monday, September 12.

If enacted, the proposed policy, circulating under the title "Provisional Electronic Communications Policy Document," would establish a number of unconstitutional restrictions on campus speech, each of which is detailed and criticized in today’s letter.

In highlighting one of those problems, Nelson and FIRE’s Azhar Majeed write:

UIUC’s proposed policy prohibits electronic communications that "interfere with the mission of the University," as well as "uses that violate other existing University and campus policies." While the policy does state that electronic resources are provided to meet the "academic, research, and outreach mission of the University" and links to the university’s mission statement, the ban on speech that is deemed to interfere with UIUC’s mission again vests far too much unbridled discretion in administrators who are charged with enforcing this provision. Given the ambiguity and lack of specificity contained in this provision, the same analysis of the vagueness doctrine detailed above applies here. Under this provision, expressing one’s views on any number of matters could lead an administrator to determine that such protected speech "interferes" with the mission of the university, no matter how unreasonable that determination is. If the university decides that faculty expression about union activities, for example, interferes with its mission, this determination alone would be sufficient grounds to prohibit and sanction the expression. Again, this result is unacceptable and is in violation of the First Amendment.

Check out the full letter for the complete account of the proposed policy’s threats to First Amendment rights at UIUC, including the policy’s overbroad ban on "political campaigning," a specter of the system-wide University of Illinois ban on various kinds of "political activity" in 2008.

FIRE and the AAUP have urged Chancellor Easter to recognize the fatal flaws in this policy and to immediately rescind them. We’ll keep you posted here on The Torch.

Schools: University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign