National Attention Continues for FIRE’s Work at Illinois

By on October 8, 2008

We blogged last week about the Chicago Tribune‘s coverage of FIRE’s letter in defense of political expression at the three University of Illinois (UI) campuses, where a memo circulated by UI’s ethics office banned a wide variety of political expression on campusesdown to the bumper stickers on the cars of UI faculty and staff. Instead of waiting until our usual end-of-the-week media round-up, we wanted to provide a brief update on the continued media exposure to FIRE stemming from UI as the situation has developed.

Over the weekend the Associated Press, picking up on the Tribune‘s lead, covered a rally for Senator Barack Obama held on the UI campus at Urbana-Champaign, in defiance of the ban on political campaign activities on the UI campuses. Like the Tribune article, the AP quotes FIRE’s Director of Legal and Public Advocacy Will Creeley, who noted the "disturbing trend" of blanket bans on political expression on public campuses that greatly infringe on the free speech rights of their students, faculty, and staff. The AP also notes FIRE’s recent letter to the University of Oklahoma, which barred political content from university email accounts, and similar complaints about overbroad policies that FIRE has received from Iowa Western Community College and Fresno Pacific University.

As Adam noted on Monday, B. Joseph White, the president of the University of Illinois, sent a memorandum to the UI community correcting the university’s position, and seeming to promise to respect the basic constitutional freedoms that the ethics office’s memo conflicted with. This change of tone was welcomed in an editorial in the Daily Illini, which notes the instrumental role FIRE playedalongside several organizationsin forcing the clarification from White. The editorial staff speaks for many when it says that "[i]n the future, we hope that the university will not wait until it faces legal action to come to its senses about something so fundamental to the effectiveness of the higher education system."

Meanwhile, a pair of articles appearing in The Justice, a student newspaper at Brandeis University, merit attention. The first recaps a recent address given to the faculty by attorney Daryl Lapp, whoas Adam mentioned in an earlier Torch post, which the article referenceshas defended various universities against lawsuits in areas such as civil rights and defamation. The article also quotes Adam saying that he "would recommend that someone sponsored by the faculty who is normally on the side of faculty rights speak to the faculty about sexual harassment and racial harassment law." Provost Marty Krauss, by the way, prohibited students and staff from attending the lecture.

And I can’t resist pointing out a Justice editorial which calls to attention a recent Facebook ad placed by FIRE linking students to Nat Hentoff’s recentand widely circulatedarticle criticizing the Brandeis administration’s treatment of Professor Donald Hindley. The adwith the headline "Intimidation at Brandeis"says it all for the editorial’s author, who suggests that "the fact that there are now Facebook advertisements promoting essays critical of the Brandeis administration should be of great concern." Well said!

Schools: Brandeis University University of Oklahoma University of Illinois at Springfield University of Illinois at Chicago University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign