University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

Location: Champaign, Illinois
Type: Public
Federal Circuit: 7th Circuit

Speech Code Rating

University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign has been given the speech code rating Yellow. Yellow light colleges and universities are those institutions with at least one ambiguous policy that too easily encourages administrative abuse and arbitrary application. Read more here.

Speech Code Memorandum for University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

Yellow Light Policies
  • The Office of Diversity, Equity, and Access: Campus Conduct 14-15

    Speech Code Category: Harassment Policies

    A hostile environment includes unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, and other verbal or physical conduct of a sexual nature. A hostile environment with respect to sexual harassment occurs when such conduct has the purpose or effect of unreasonably interfering with an individual’s work or academic performance or creating an intimidating, hostile, or offensive working or learning environment. In addition, a hostile environment occurs when unwelcome sexually harassing conduct is so severe, persistent or pervasive that it affects a person’s ability to participate in or benefit from a University program or activity, or creates an intimidating, threatening or abusive environment.

    The following descriptions, while not all-inclusive, will help you understand behaviors that, if unwelcome, may constitute sexual harassment.

    Unwanted sexual statements – sexual or “dirty” jokes, comments on physical attributes, spreading rumors about or rating others as to sexual activity or performance, talking about one’s sexual activity in front of others, and displaying or distributing sexually explicit drawings, pictures and/or written material. Unwanted sexual statements can be made in person, in writing, electronically (email, instant messaging, blogs, web pages, etc.) and otherwise.

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  • Student Organization Handbook: Event Planning 14-15

    Speech Code Category: Protest and Demonstration Policies

    Anytime an organization wants to hold an event, activity, or meeting, the event must first be approved by the Illini Union Office of Registered Organizations.

    Providing a forum for student expression is vital to the learning environment of the University. As a state institution, the University of Illinois adheres to the protections guaranteed by the First Amendment to the Constitution of the United States. Free speech, free expression, and peaceable assembly are basic to the exchange of ideas and beliefs. Academic progress and freedom flourish when the rights of free expression are assured, particularly at an institution of higher education.

    In accordance with the Campus Administrative Manual, Anniversary Plaza (the space formally designated by red bricks between the Illini Union and the Quad) has been designated as a public forum due to its high visibility to the student body, easy access, and its location as being less likely to disrupt or obstruct University activities and functions (when activity occurs there). Anniversary Plaza is approximately 30’x25’ in size. A sample of programming events that typically occur in Anniversary Plaza include, but are not limited to, speeches, rallies, protests, demonstrations, vigils, large scale educational displays, and visits by local and national political figures.

    Organizations that want to host formal programs including but not limited to demonstrations, rallies, speeches, concerts, vigils, and film screenings on Anniversary Plaza must submit a Space Request Form to and receive prior approval for the proposed event from the Office of Registered Organizations.

    In accord with the Campus Administrative Manual, the Auditorium Terrace Public Engagement Area, herein referred to as the Auditorium Terrace, has been designated as a public forum due to its high visibility to the student body, easy access, and its location as being less likely to disrupt or obstruct University activities and functions (when activity occurs there).


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  • Office for Student Conflict Resolution: Reporting Acts of Intolerance 14-15

    Speech Code Category: Policies on Bias and Hate Speech

    It is important to report all acts of intolerance no matter how insignificant one might perceive an incident to be. … Incidents that are seemingly minor initially — name calling, homophobic graffiti, racist slurs — can escalate into more serious incidents, including violence, if unaddressed.

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  • Student Code: Campus Integrity Statement 14-15

    Speech Code Category: Policies on Tolerance, Respect, and Civility

    The University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign expects its faculty, staff, students and guests to conduct themselves in accordance with the community values of civility, respect and honesty; to maintain the highest level of integrity and exercise critical judgment in all dealings, decisions and encounters; and to maintain and strengthen the public’s trust and confidence in our institution.

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  • Student Code: Posting and Distribution of Handout Materials 14-15

    Speech Code Category: Posting Policies

    Any individual may post and distribute leaflets, handbills, and other types of materials intended to provide information about sociopolitical or educational issues and events, without prior approval, under the following conditions:

    (a) Such materials must not advertise … the promotional materials of candidates for non-campus elections.

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Green Light Policies
  • Housing Hallmarks: Your Community – Harassment 14-15

    Speech Code Category: Harassment Policies

    Residents are prohibited from threatening or harassing others for any reason and on any basis, including on the basis of their actual or perceived race, color, national origin, religion, gender, sexual orientation, gender identity, age, disability, or veteran status. Specifically, residents may not (1) make any threat or engage in any physically threatening behavior which creates a reasonable fear for a person’s safety, or (2) engage in behavior which is so persistent, pervasive, or severe as to deny a person’s ability to participate in the university community.

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  • Student Code: Student Rights and Responsibilities- Student Rights 14-15

    Speech Code Category: Advertised Commitments to Free Expression

    A student at the University of Illinois at the Urbana-Champaign campus is a member of a University community of which all members have at least the rights and responsibilities common to all citizens, free from institutional censorship; affiliation with the University as a student does not diminish the rights or responsibilities held by a student or any other community member as a citizen of larger communities of the state, the nation, and the world.

    Discussion and expression of all views is permitted within the University subject only to requirements for the maintenance of order.

    The right of peaceful protest is recognized within the University community.

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  • Student Code: Rules of Conduct 14-15

    Speech Code Category: Harassment Policies

    Conduct for which students are subject to discipline includes, but is not limited to, the following: … engaging in behavior which is so persistant, pervasive, or severe as to deny a person’s ability to participate in the University community.

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  • Policy and Procedures for Addressing Discrimination and Harassment at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign 14-15

    Speech Code Category: Harassment Policies

    Harassment is unwelcome conduct that is based on: race, color, religion, sex, pregnancy, disability, national origin, citizenship status, ancestry, age, order of protection status, genetic information, marital status, sexual orientation including gender identity, arrest record status, military status, and unfavorable discharge from military service. Harassment becomes unlawful when:

    • the conduct is severe or pervasive enough to create a work or learning environment that a reasonable person would consider intimidating, hostile, or abusive; and
    • enduring the offensive conduct becomes a condition of continued employment or participating in an educational program or activity.

    Sexual harassment includes any unwelcome sexual advances or requests for sexual favors or any unwelcome conduct of a sexual nature (including sexual assault, sexual abuse, and other forms of sexual misconduct) when: … such conduct has the purpose or effect of unreasonably interfering with an individual’s work or academic performance or creating an intimidating, hostile or offensive working or educational environment. Generally, a pattern of unwelcome behavior is required; however, if sufficiently severe, one incident may constitute a hostile environment.

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  • The Salaita Lawsuit

    February 3, 2015

    By KC Johnson at Minding The Campus As expected, anti-Israel activist and purported American Indian Studies expert Steven Salaita has filed a lawsuit against the University of Illinois. My take on the merits of Salaita’s case remains essentially the same: (1) FIRE isabsolutely correct in the chilling effects of Illinois’ “civility” standard; and (2) the Salaita case is most comparable to that of Ward Churchill, another qualification-challenged professor hired for reasons unrelated to his academic talent. Just as Colorado knew or should have known that Churchill had no business as a tenured professor, but didn’t have any problem keeping him […]

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  • Civility and Free Speech

    October 14, 2014

    By Henry Reichman at Inside Higher Ed In his “Civility Manifesto” published here last week Cary Nelson cites my blog post, “Is Incivility the New Communism?,” as “particularly hyperbolic” in its critique of efforts by some university administrators to demand that free speech be limited to expression they deem “civil.” In his own expression Nelson himself has been known to employ hyperbole — as well as sarcasm — even to the point that some might call uncivil, so it’s surprising he does not recognize that my exaggeration was intentional. Of course, we are not living through a new Red Scare […]

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  • Freedom Creep

    October 3, 2014

    By Colleen Flaherty at Inside Higher Ed Professors and students are usually the biggest defenders of academic freedom and free speech on their campuses. But a pair of new books argues that students and faculty members themselves are degrading those values. Professors, one book says, are increasingly adopting notions of academic freedom that are too expansive, leaving the academy open to criticism from without. Students, meanwhile — says a second book — are increasingly trying to clip speech with which they feel uncomfortable, threatening free speech over all. In Versions of Academic Freedom: From Professionalism to Revolution (University of Chicago Press), Stanley […]

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  • Not All Hate Speech is Equal

    September 22, 2014

    By Cathy Young at Newsday In no other profession except the media is freedom of speech and ideas as important as in the academy. But what are the limits to professors’ speech? When is a university justified in sanctioning a faculty member for inflammatory public comments that may cross the line into bigotry? These issues are being raised in the case of Steven Salaita, a professor of American Indian studies who is fighting against the decision of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign to revoke the offer of a tenured position that he had accepted. The decision was apparently based […]

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  • Steven Salaita and the Tyranny of ‘Hate Speech’

    September 16, 2014

    By Elizabeth Nolan Brown at Reason Online Last week, the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign (UIUC) Trustees voted 8-to-1 to deny a tenured position to Steven Salaita, a professor who had been slated to start teaching there this semester. Salaita’s job offer was initially rescinded in response to outcry over statements he tweeted about Gaza and Israel, which some have labeled “hate speech.” Two weeks before his scheduled August start date, Salaita received the rejection letter from UIUC Chancellor Phyllis Wise, who had been meeting with concerned donors and alumni about Salaita’s appointment. In a blog post, Wise explained that her decision […]

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  • Salaita and Academic Freedom

    September 6, 2014

    By KC Johnson at Minding the Campus The Steven Salaita case at the University of Illinois continues to engender controversy. The three most perceptive commentaries came from FIRE and Steven Lubet. In comments with which I entirely agree, FIRE condemned the public statement of Illinois chancellor Phyllis Wise, who justified the revocation of Salaita’s offer on the grounds “we cannot and will not tolerate . . . personal and disrespectful words or actions that demean and abuse . . . viewpoints themselves.” But why, as FIRE noted, should anyone be prohibited from “disrespectfully” “abusing” ideas”—such as racism or sexism or homophobia? […]

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  • Did the University of Illinois Rescind Steven Salaita’s Appointment to Appease Donors?

    September 3, 2014

    By Jonathan H. Adler at The Washington Post The University of Illinois had planned to hire Professor Steven Salaita away from Virginia Tech. (See my prior posts on this controversy here, here andhere.) Then concerns were raised about his penchant for angry and inflammatory tweets, particularly about Israel and its supporters. Initially, the university seemed supportive. Then it effectively rescinded the offer to appoint him to the faculty when University Chancellor Phyllis Wise refused to forward Salaita’s appointment to the University’s Board of Trustees. An official university statement on the affair reiterated the school’s purported commitment to academic freedom, while also […]

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  • Should Tenure Protect “Unhinged Fanatics” like Steven Salaita?

    August 12, 2014

    By Vincent Carroll at The Denver Post If the University of Colorado succeeds in firing a tenured philosophy professor for allegedly retaliating against a graduate student for reporting a sexual assault by a fellow student, it will be only the fourth time a professor has been fired in the university’s history, according to the Daily Camera. In 138 years, mind you. Now that’s job security. Notably, none of the four was targeted for what was said inside or outside the classroom. Although the university’s interest in Ward Churchill, the most recent CU professor to be given the boot, was obviously piqued by […]

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  • Proposed UI email policy put on hold

    September 13, 2011

    URBANA — A policy governing emails and other electronic communication at the University of Illinois has been put on hold after educational groups raised free-speech concerns about it. The campus senate was scheduled to discuss the policy Monday afternoon, but the item was pulled from the agenda. On Friday, the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education and the American Association of University Professors wrote to the interim Chancellor Robert Easter to express “deep concerns” about the proposed policy, saying it would restrict the First Amendment rights and academic freedom of students and faculty. “We believe this warrants more serious consideration […]

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  • Higher education can lower your expectations

    August 3, 2010

    Ever since the Second World War, professional educators have promoted a college or university education for the wrong reason, viz., to make more money than otherwise would be the case. Around 1965 the passion for the egalitarian and pacifistic goals of the left began to corrupt higher learning even more. Today one enrolls at one’s own risk. The fundamental error of the claim that college makes you richer is that those who succeed after college are likely to succeed without it. While many students have indeed gone on to prosperous careers, many others have not, dropping out at some point […]

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  • The Real Scandal at Illinois?

    July 19, 2010

    If you want to study Buddhist or Methodist or Jewish thought at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, there are relevant courses in religious studies — courses where the instructors have been selected by a department of scholars, through standard academic procedures. But if you want to study Roman Catholicism, your instructors have been through different vetting — they will have been nominated by (and their salaries paid by) the St. John’s Catholic Newman Center, a church organization independent of the university, set up to serve Catholic students at the university. This arrangement has existed for decades, and been opposed […]

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  • U of I faces backlash after decision on campus political activity

    October 3, 2008

    Students and professors at the University of Illinois rallied for Barack Obama on the Urbana-Champaign campus Thursday – holding signs, passing out fliers and registering people to vote – to probe an increasingly controversial question as the November elections approach: Is it legal for employees and students at state colleges to express support for political candidates while on campus? The university’s administration has sparked outrage by informing faculty, staff and graduate students that a five-year-old state law designed to prevent state workers from campaigning for candidates on state time or with state resources meant they could not express support for […]

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  • U of I rally supports right to campus politicking

    October 3, 2008

    Claiming their rights to support political candidates are under assault, some University of Illinois faculty and students held a rally for Democratic presidential nominee Barack Obama on campus to make their stand clear. The rally Thursday was staged after an official school statement informing the community that a state ethics law bars state workers from political activities on university property. “They’re trying to control our bodies and our voices any time we’re on campus,” said graduate student Dan Colson. “These policies are clearly a violation of our First Amendment rights.” The American Civil Liberties Union of Illinois sent a letter […]

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  • Do College Republicans hate Allah?

    April 9, 2007

    The College Republicans at San Francisco State University recently found themselves under investigation for the offenses of flag desecration and blasphemy. While the disciplinary proceedings ended late last month with a decision not to punish the student group, the investigation itself points to a troubling trend. The alleged blasphemy was directed at Islam, and the desecrated flag contained no stars or stripes. At a small anti-terrorism rally in October 2006, several members of the College Republicans stomped on pieces of paper they had painted to look like flags of the radical Islamic organizations Hezbollah and Hamas, copying the designs from […]

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  • Mascot retired

    February 20, 2007

    The natives are getting restless in Champaign, Ill., as last week brought the death of Chief Illiniwek, the University of Illinois’ 81-year-old Indian mascot, as well as the potential expulsion of a university student for trying to save the aging warrior. Ever since 1926, Chief Illiniwek, who is normally portrayed by a university student, was known for rallying crowds and entertaining halftime audiences with traditional tribal dances. The Chief’s existence, though, came under fire after a number of Native American groups argued that mascot was offensive, racist and no longer a suitable representation of the university. This controversy is not […]

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  • Salaita Sues U. of Illinois Over Rescinded Job Offer

    January 29, 2015

    Steven Salaita filed a federal lawsuit today against the University of Illinois trustees who voted to rescind his offer of a professorship at the university, top university officials, and the donors who he claims purposefully influenced their decision. Shortly before classes were due to start last fall, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign (UIUC) Chancellor Phyllis Wise told Salaita that she would not have the Board of Trustees consider his appointment, a step many argued was a mere formality in the hiring process. An email statement from Wise made clear that she was motivated by what she characterized as “disrespectful words”—several […]

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  • U. of Illinois Board of Trustees Will Not Reconsider Hiring Salaita

    January 16, 2015

    Last month, I wrote about a report by the Committee on Academic Freedom and Tenure (CAFT) at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign (UIUC), which recommended the university reconsider its decision not to hire professor Steven Salaita following a series of controversial tweets on his personal Twitter account last summer. The report emphasized that the university’s desire for faculty to maintain a standard of “civility” cannot trump principles of freedom of speech and academic freedom. CAFT also found that Chancellor Phyllis Wise disregarded principles of shared governance in blocking Salaita’s appointment without consulting other administrators and faculty. Despite these findings, […]

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  • ‘New York Times’ Columnist David Brooks Calls for End to Speech Codes

    January 13, 2015

    As advocates for free expression struggle to come to terms with last week’s tragic and deadly attack against the satirical French magazine Charlie Hebdo, many are asking questions about what this means for freedom of speech everywhere, including in the United States. Last Thursday, New York Times columnist David Brooks asked those who have taken up the cause of free speech in response to the horrific violence against Charlie Hebdo cartoonists to defend speech at all times, even closer to home. If you missed it, it’s well worth a read. In particular, Brooks wonders about Americans’ commitment to defending free […]

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  • U. of Illinois Committee Recommends Reevaluation of Steven Salaita

    December 24, 2014

    The Committee on Academic Freedom and Tenure (CAFT) at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign (UIUC) has released a report assessing the university’s decision not to hire professor Steven Salaita because of a series of tweets he posted to his personal Twitter account just before the university’s board of trustees was set to vote on his appointment to the faculty. CAFT is part of the university Senate and is tasked with investigating potential violations of academic freedom and shared governance. Most critically, CAFT reaffirmed in its report that, contrary to statements from Chancellor Phyllis Wise, “civility does not constitute a […]

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  • Center for Constitutional Rights and Allies Write to Universities About Problems with Mandating ‘Civility’

    November 19, 2014

    Colleges and universities too often attempt to censor or chill expression by calling for “civility,” demanding that speakers exercise restraint in a way that is inconsistent with First Amendment principles. Earlier this month, the Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR) joined Advancing Justice – Asian Law Caucus, Palestine Solidarity Legal Support, the National Lawyers Guild, and the Council on American-Islamic Relations in sending a letter (PDF) to over 140 universities, urging them against restricting speech based on the notion of “civility” or on misunderstandings about what constitutes “harassment.” CCR wrote in its introduction to the letter about recent controversies involving a […]

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  • U. of Illinois Board of Trustees Votes Against Salaita Appointment

    September 12, 2014

    Yesterday afternoon, the University of Illinois Board of Trustees voted 8–1 against appointing Steven Salaita to a teaching position in the American Indian studies program at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign (UIUC). Last month, just weeks before Salaita was set to begin teaching at UIUC, Chancellor Phyllis Wise informed him that she would not have the university’s Board of Trustees vote on his appointment—a step that many consider a mere formality in the hiring process. Since then, those watching the case have been split on whether Wise’s decision not to bring Salaita’s appointment to the the Board, which was based on a […]

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  • U. of Illinois Totally Blows It on Salaita Defense

    August 22, 2014

    Today, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign Chancellor Phyllis Wise sent out the following email statement to all students regarding the controversy over no-longer-to-be-hired professor Steven Salaita. (It’s late on a Friday afternoon; the timing is probably not a coincidence.)

    Here’s the statement, in full:

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  • Free Speech Advocates Urge Consistency in Protecting Speech

    August 14, 2014

    Adam Kissel, formerly of FIRE, took to Minding the Campus on Tuesday to remind readers of why advocates for free speech should be concerned that Professor Steven Salaita had his employment offer rescinded by the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign (UIUC) following controversy over his tweets about Israel. Those who refuse to defend Salaita’s right to share these tweets, Kissel argues, will have a hard time defending the public speech of any other faculty member who voices opinions that others find offensive.

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  • Did U. of Illinois Withdraw Job Offer to Prof over Controversial Tweets?

    August 7, 2014

    Yesterday, Scott Jaschik of Inside Higher Ed reported that Professor Steven G. Salaita, who was leaving Virginia Tech for a job with the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign’s (UIUC’s) American Indian studies program, was “informed by [UIUC] Chancellor Phyllis Wise that the appointment would not go to the university’s board, and that he did not have a job to come to in Illinois, according to two sources with knowledge of the situation.” The reason for the controversy is one that is quickly becoming all too familiar—controversial remarks made on Twitter. What makes this case stranger is that the university was […]

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  • University of Illinois Chancellor Echoes Respect for First Amendment, Encourages Discussion

    January 30, 2014

    On Tuesday, I praised the administration at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign (UIUC) for defending free speech on campus in the face of racist and sexist tweets directed at UIUC Chancellor Phyllis Wise. This morning, Chancellor Wise herself chimes in with a column at Inside Higher Ed, where she strongly echoes the university’s earlier commitment to upholding its students’ speech rights, while calling for the campus community to use the incident as a learning experience in order to create positive change. Wise writes: The negative comments, as offensive as they were, are protected speech. But what is protected expression […]

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  • University of Illinois Administration Respects First Amendment, Rejects Censorship; Discussion Ensues

    January 28, 2014

    Students at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign (UIUC), my alma mater, embarrassed themselves on Sunday night by throwing a Twitter tantrum about the school’s decision to hold classes despite the cold weather. By Monday morning, nearly 2,000 tweets had used the hashtag “#FuckPhyllis,” a reference to UIUC Chancellor Phyllis Wise, who had the thankless task of informing the campus community that they would not be enjoying an extended weekend. Despite their petulance, these tweets might have gone unnoticed had some tweeters not started making racist and sexist comments about Chancellor Wise. Not surprisingly, this development attracted significant media attention. Such controversies […]

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  • ‘Inside Higher Ed’ Highlights Concerns about Proposed UIUC Electronic Communications Policy

    September 15, 2011

    Yesterday, I wrote about the successful outcome of our joint effort with the American Association of University Professors (AAUP) to prevent passage of an electronic communications policy riddled with First Amendment problems at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign (UIUC). On Monday, Inside Higher Ed ran a story about the proposed policy, noting the involvement of FIRE and the AAUP. The story also highlighted the response of UIUC Chief Privacy and Security Officer Michael Corn to some of our concerns with the policy. While the policy has now been shelved and UIUC has promised to address the issues we raised, I want to […]

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  • Victory: University of Illinois Shelves Proposed Email Policy Due to Free Speech Problems

    September 14, 2011

    Proving that positive change can come even at the last minute, FIRE took on a proposed policy with only two days to spare (across a weekend, at that), and is now proud to announce that our efforts have been successful. Late last week, we obtained a copy of a proposed electronic communications policy at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign (UIUC), set for discussion and a vote on Monday, September 12. After finding several First Amendment flaws in the proposed policy, we teamed up with Cary Nelson, President of the American Association of University Professors (AAUP) and a UIUC professor, […]

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

    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 […]

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  • FIRE at University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign Today

    September 28, 2010

    Azhar Majeed, FIRE’s Associate Director of Legal and Public Advocacy, begins his Midwest speaking tour today with a stop at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign (UIUC). As part of a panel hosted by the Illini Secular Student Alliance, Azhar will discuss UIUC’s two red-light speech policies, as well as FIRE’s involvement in the 2008 case where the University of Illinois attempted to restrict faculty political speech during the election season. The panel will also feature Dr. Kenneth Howell, a professor of Catholic thought at UIUC and the subject of a recent FIRE case. Edward Clint, leader of the student […]

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  • NPR’s ‘All Things Considered’ on Two FIRE Cases about Christian Professors

    August 16, 2010

    National Public Radio’s All Things Considered discussed a couple of FIRE cases earlier this month. Barbara Bradley Hagerty, reporting for the show, covered a poll of 1,700 university scientists at “elite universities” which found that many of them say they self-censor when it comes to talking about their religion: Contrary to the stereotype that most scientists are atheists, [Rice professor Elaine Howard Ecklund] says, nearly half of them say they are religious. But when she did follow up interviews, she found they practice a “closeted faith.” “They just do not want to bring up that they are religious in an academic discussion. […]

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  • Update: UIUC Responds to FIRE’s Letter, Confirms Victory

    July 30, 2010

    As Adam noted earlier today, the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign (UIUC) has reversed its decision not to rehire Professor Kenneth Howell to teach Introduction to Catholicism. UIUC has offered to return him to his class this fall and to pay his salary. The Alliance Defense Fund (ADF), which is providing Howell with legal representation, reported this outcome yesterday, and UIUC has now confirmed this reversal to FIRE in a letter we have just received in response to our letter of July 16. The letter we received from Deputy University Counsel Steven A. Veazie is substantially the same as his […]

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  • Victory for Academic Freedom at UIUC

    July 30, 2010

    The University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign (UIUC) has reversed its unconstitutional decision not to rehire adjunct professor Kenneth Howell following a student complaint about the content of Howell’s teaching. Howell had compared different criteria for judging the morality of sexual conduct in an e-mail to his Introduction to Catholicism students, and the complaining student (who was not in Howell’s class) had objected to Howell’s elaboration of Catholic “Natural Moral Theory” criteria as it applied to homosexual sexual conduct. FIRE intervened on July 16, 2010, in a letter pointing out that it is constitutionally impermissible for a public college to refuse to […]

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  • Alliance Defense Fund Goes Head to Head with the University of Illinois over Howell Case

    July 21, 2010

    Late yesterday, the Alliance Defense Fund (ADF) reported that the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign (UIUC) has replied to ADF’s warning that it had violated the constitutional rights of adjunct professor Kenneth Howell. UIUC decided not to rehire him after he had been teaching for nine years. Its decision, by all indications, came because Howell had e-mailed the students in his class comparing what he described as Catholic and utilitarian criteria for making moral judgments about sexual conduct. FIRE also intervened in the case last week, and I provided further analysis of the situation on Monday. Today we examine the University of Illinois’ […]

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  • UIUC ‘Suspends Decision’ against Adjunct Professor, Fails to Resolve Rights Violation

    July 20, 2010

    The Alliance Defense Fund (ADF) has just reported that UIUC has suspended its decision not to rehire adjunct associate professor Kenneth Howell because of an e-mail about Catholicism that he sent his students in a class about Catholicism. However, UIUC’s partial response has not resolved the issue of the violation of his constitutional rights. As Heather Gebelin Hacker, ADF Litigation Staff Counsel, writes: Late Thursday, we received a letter from the University stating that they are “suspending” the decision of his department chair pending review by the committee.  While this is a nice step, this does not resolve the issue.  It is meaningless for […]

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  • More Developments at UIUC in Case of Punished Catholic Professor

    July 19, 2010

    Meghan reported last week on FIRE’s letter to University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign Chancellor Robert A. Easter in the matter of adjunct professor Kenneth Howell, who was let go as the teacher of his UIUC courses on Catholicism after he sent his students an e-mail comparing what he described as the Catholic and the utilitarian criteria for making moral judgments about sexual behavior. According to The News-Gazette, Associate Dean Ann Mester told other UIUC staff that “the e-mails sent by Dr. Howell violate university standards of inclusivity, which would then entitle us to have him discontinue his teaching arrangement with […]

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  • FIRE Intervenes after UIUC Professor Dismissed, Highlighting Violation of Academic Freedom

    July 16, 2010

    Dr. Kenneth Howell, an adjunct professor at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign (UIUC), was not rehired by the university after a student complained in an e-mail to the department chair that Dr. Howell was “inflammatory and downright insensitive” in his class on Catholicism. Howell had sent an e-mail to the students in his class comparing what he described as Catholic and utilitarian criteria for moral judgments about sexual conduct. The complaining student, who was not enrolled in Dr. Howell’s class, stated that the e-mail was “absurd” and constituted “hate speech.” Because he was let go from his university position, Dr. Howell also was […]

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  • Is Nothing Sacred? Comedy Central Joins Many Universities in Caving to Threats of Violence for Depictions of Mohammed

    April 23, 2010

    Comedy Central’s cartoon hit South Park is famous for its shocking and offensive humor, targeted at subjects ranging from Queen Elizabeth to Scientology. The show’s renowned satire takes an unapologetic attitude towards goring sacred cows, and fans have come to regard South Park‘s principled stance on free speech as sacred in and of itself. This week, however, Comedy Central created headlines around the world by censoring a portion of a South Park episode. The episode continued last week’s plotline depicting Mohammed in a bear suit, which is considered blasphemous by some followers of Islam. Comedy Central’s usually laissez-faire approach to […]

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  • FOIA Request Reveals That University of Illinois Administrators Conspired to Censor Student Speech

    February 1, 2010

    FIRE always has plenty to report about the mischief of college administrators as they stifle free expression on campus. Robert reports over at Pajamas Media on the latest from the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign, where administrators were hard at work to ensure that their own students couldn’t advocate for the return of the banned UI mascot, Chief Illiniwek. Students for Chief Illiniwek (SFCI), a recognized student group at UI, advocates for the return of Chief Illiniwek as UI’s sports mascot. The mascot was retired during the NCAA’s campaign to rid colleges and universities of most Native American mascots. SFCI was […]

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  • Will Chief Illiniwek dance again?

    February 1, 2010

    While America’s legislators and business leaders desperately search for a way out of political impasses and economic travails, what, you may ask, are those who lead our colleges and universities working on? Reducing the ever-increasing inflation of tuition? Safety from campus crime? Ensuring academic success? One certainly hopes so. But last fall, at the University of Illinois’ flagship campus at Urbana-Champaign, high-level administrators and professors were spending time worrying about a different vital issue: how to stop their students from promoting Illinois’ banned mascot. Students for Chief Illiniwek (SFCI) is a UI student group that wants to restore the Chief […]

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  • Repression of Political Speech and Activity Abounds on College Campuses in 2008

    December 24, 2008

    In an election year when the presidential race between Senators Barack Obama and John McCain dominated much of the country’s attention and media headlines, college and university campuses were certainly not immune to election fever. University students and faculty across the nation joined in the multitude of voices advocating for, criticizing, protesting, and otherwise commenting on the candidates and the hot-button issues of the season. With this came some regrettable consequences. This year, we witnessed a number of colleges and universities prohibiting and punishing many forms of constitutionally protected political speech and activity. While the rights of students and faculty […]

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  • Weekly Media Round-up: Victory at Temple College Highlights FIRE’s Week

    November 7, 2008

    FIRE scored another victory for free speech and academic freedom this week with its successful intervention on behalf of Kerry Laird, an instructor at Temple College (TX) who was ordered to remove a religiously themed cartoon and a quote from Friedrich Nietzsche translating to “God is dead” from his office door. Within half an hour of receiving FIRE’s letter, Temple College President Glenda O. Barron swiftly and commendably reversed the order and reaffirmed Laird’s constitutional rights at the public college. Scott Jaschik, writing for Inside Higher Ed, ably captures both the gravity of the constitutional issues at stake at Temple […]

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  • Stanley Fish Misunderstands FIRE on Illinois ‘Buttons’ Controversy

    October 14, 2008

    Although Stanley Fish says he agrees with FIRE most of the time, in his New York Times blog on Sunday he disagreed with us on the issue of a memo from the University of Illinois that banned university faculty from engaging in political activity on campus such as attending political rallies—even when they were off the clock. After widespread condemnation of the new policy including serious concerns expressed in a letter from FIRE, President B. Joseph White reversed the most serious violations in the policy, once again permitting faculty and staff to exercise most of their political rights on campus. […]

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  • National Attention Continues for FIRE’s Work at Illinois

    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 campuses—down 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 […]

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  • University of Illinois Responds to Widespread Complaints Against Ban on Political Activity

    October 6, 2008

    FIRE, the ACLU, the AAUP, the National Association of Scholars, and the Illinois Association of Scholars all agree that the recent statement by the University of Illinois Ethics Office went too far in banning political expression and participation on University of Illinois campuses. Here is the response from University of Illinois president B. Joseph White in its entirety: To:     Members of the University CommunityFrom:   B. Joseph WhiteRe:     A Message Concerning University Employees and the Illinois State Ethics Act I write to you today with a simple message: We, the leadership of the University of Illinois, will preserve, protect and […]

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  • Weekly Media Round-up: FIRE’s Expertise Widely Cited, and Pressure Grows on Brandeis and Third Circuit Schools

    October 3, 2008

    Today’s Chicago Tribune featured an article examining the widening controversy over restrictions on political speech and activity at the University of Illinois, which go so far as to suggest that displaying a candidate’s bumper sticker on one’s car is out of bounds. FIRE is closely monitoring this case, as well as a similar situation at the University of Oklahoma, where all manner of political speech has been banned from the university network. FIRE has sent letters to both universities, asking for immediate clarification of the policies consistent with each school’s legal obligation to uphold the First Amendment on campus. Hopefully […]

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  • CFN Member Tim Nuccio Joined to Advance Liberty

    October 3, 2008

    Every week, we post on The Torch to encourage students to join the CFN. We explain the benefits of the CFN incentive program, and the resources provided to CFN members. Instead of hearing from us on why students should join, we thought our readers might want to hear from one of our members.   This week I e-mailed one of our newest members, Tim Nuccio of the University of Illinois at Urbana–Champaign, and asked him why he joined. His response was simple, I joined because FIRE has a pending case against my school, which has instituted an ethics policy that […]

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  • ‘Chicago Tribune’ Highlights FIRE’s Work Defending Political Speech

    October 3, 2008

    An article in today’s edition of the Chicago Tribune further investigates the outrage among many at the University of Illinois over the September 2008 edition of Ethics Matter, a “newsletter from the University of Illinois Ethics Office.” The memo, which has caused widespread outrage among faculty, suggests that a whole host of political activity is simply out of bounds for faculty members. As the article reports: The university’s administration has sparked outrage by telling faculty, staff and graduate students that a 5-year-old state law designed to prevent state workers from campaigning for candidates on state time or with state resources […]

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  • At U. of I., a question of supporting candidates on campus

    October 3, 2008

    Students and professors at the University of Illinois decided to rally for Barack Obama on the Urbana-Champaign campus Thursday to make clear their stand on an increasingly controversial question as the November elections approach: Is it legal for employees and students at state colleges to express support for political candidates while on campus? The university’s administration has sparked outrage by telling faculty, staff and graduate students that a 5-year-old state law designed to prevent state workers from campaigning for candidates on state time or with state resources meant they could not express support for candidates or parties through pins, T-shirts […]

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  • FIRE Quarterly: ‘From the Board of Directors’

    March 2, 2007

    Daphne Patai, a member of our Board of Directors, contributed to our recent edition of The FIRE Quarterly with a column reinforcing the importance of FIRE’s work after a year in which we saw so many attempts to limit student speech on campus. She wrote: Where restrictions on speech must, by law, be content-neutral, universities these days have the habit of taking it upon themselves to decide which points of view are to be protected by the First Amendment and which are not. Where the law prohibits harassment only if it is “persistent and pervasive” enough to interfere with an […]

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  • Lessons from the Communications Revolution

    February 26, 2007

    As Greg and Will pointed out in their Boston Phoenix cover story last week, social networking sites like are giving university administrators an unprecedented look into the way students actually talk to one another. This, in turn, has led to an increase in cases of students being subjected to university discipline for the content of their online speech.   This past fall, for example, Johns Hopkins University subjected 18-year-old junior Justin Park to some of the harshest treatment we have ever seen from a university because of a Halloween party invitation that Park posted on Facebook. What began as […]

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  • More than a mascot

    February 19, 2007

    Last summer, Vernon Burton gave lectures on history and the use of computing in humanities research at meetings in Britain and France. When he finished each talk, the first question wasn’t about his research, but about Chief Illiniwek, the mascot at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, and why the university would keep a symbol that is offensive to American Indians. “What people knew about the university was the chief, not the research and teaching here,” said Burton, a critic of the mascot and president of the Faculty Senate. On Friday, the university announced that Chief Illiniwek would make a […]

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  • Illinois Retires Chief Illiniwek

    February 16, 2007

    The New York Times and the Illinois student newspaper the Daily Illini both report today that the University of Illinois is retiring its Native American mascot, Chief Illiniwek, on February 21, after the last men’s home basketball game of the season.   The NCAA Executive Committee instituted a policy in 2005 that placed Illinois on a list of non-compliant institutions for maintaining the Native American mascot. Illinois was thus banned from hosting NCAA post-season events at home.    Lawrence C. Eppley, the Chair of Illinois’ Board of Trustees, explained the decision to retire the Chief in a university press release […]

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  • David Ross Asks an Uncomfortable Question

    February 16, 2007

    Upon receipt of a FIRE press release, FIRE friend David Ross e-mails the university administrator in question and asks a simple question: Are FIRE’s allegations accurate?   Following FIRE’s latest press release regarding the “tomahawk threat” at Illinois, Prof. Ross wrote to Chancellor Herman: You, Chancellor Herman, may really think that this silly student actually intended to threaten a tomahawk attack! Certainly that’s what you indicated in your email regarding this matter. Do you really think that the student threatened an actual attack? If the student really were threatening to attack someone with a tomahawk then taking action against that student […]

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  • Misunderstanding ‘Threats’ at the University of Illinois

    February 15, 2007

    As we reported in a press release this morning, the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign is threatening a student with discipline for a comment he posted on The student was a member of a now-defunct group formed in response to a movement to get rid of Illinois’ Native American mascot, “Chief Illiniwek.” The group called itself “If They Get Rid of the Chief I’m Becoming a Racist,” and the student in question posted the following comment: Apparently the leader of this movement is of Sioux descent. Which means what, you ask? The Sioux indians [sic] are the ones […]

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  • University of Illinois Threatens Student with Punishment for Online Speech

    February 15, 2007

    CHAMPAIGN, Ill., February 15, 2007—The University of Illinois at Urbana–Champaign (Illinois) is threatening to discipline a student for posting a hyperbolic comment on that the university interpreted as a threat. The comment concerned the debate over Illinois’ mascot, “Chief Illiniwek.” The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) is calling on the public university to respect its constitutional obligations and immediately drop its investigation into what was unquestionably protected expression. “Administrative attempts to punish students for online jokes seem to have reached epidemic proportions,” FIRE President Greg Lukianoff said. “This is an attempt to punish students for speech that […]

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  • Free Speech Zones at University of Illinois

    January 10, 2007

    Today, The News-Gazette of Illinois has an interesting piece discussing two recent free speech incidents and questioning several policies that regulate the time, place, and manner of speech at the University of Illinois. As I have stated in a previous post, universities may constitutionally enact reasonable time, place, and manner restrictions. However, administrators too often conveniently forget the word “reasonable” when constructing their policies. From the sounds of this article, administrators of the University of Illinois might want to look up the definition of reasonable before reviewing these policies.

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  • Acton Gorton’s ‘Truly Astonishing Experience’

    May 10, 2006

    As FIRE’s internship coordinator, I am very excited about the opportunity to work with the 11 exceptional undergraduates and three outstanding law students who will spend the summer here. Readers may already be familiar with one of our undergraduate interns, Acton Gorton. As the editor-in-chief of The Daily Illini at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, Acton wrote a column about the Mohammed cartoons and published six of them. Soon after his column and the cartoons appeared, the paper’s board of directors suspended him and then terminated him as editor-in-chief. In response to his termination, Acton wrote the following column, […]

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  • Possibly the Most Newsworthy Cartoons in History

    March 17, 2006

    It’s official: the editor who chose to republish some of the cartoons depicting the prophet Mohammed at the University of Illinois has been fired by the paper’s board of directors. According to an article from CNN, “The Illini Media Co. board of directors, which comprises students and faculty, voted unanimously to fire the editor after a review ‘found that Gorton violated Daily Illini policies about thoughtful discussion of and preparation for the publication of inflammatory material,’ according to a statement.” Earlier, the chancellor of the university sent a public letter commenting on the paper’s decision. He wrote: I was saddened […]

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  • Student Press in Jeopardy with ‘Hosty’

    March 3, 2006

    As we reported last week, FIRE is disappointed that the Supreme Court has decided not to hear Hosty v. Carter, thereby upholding the Seventh Circuit’s 2005 decision to allow public university administrators to censor student newspapers. The Student Press Law Center (SPLC) issued a press release this week airing student editors’ reactions. This decision has gained new importance in light of the recent debate surrounding the publishing of the Danish Mohammed cartoons. The Seventh Circuit encompasses Indiana, Wisconsin, and Illinois, and in Illinois alone, two controversies have arisen regarding the public display of the cartoons. At the University of Chicago, […]

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