University of Illinois System: Faculty and Student Employees Banned from Participating in Political Activity on Campus

Category: Cases, Free Speech
Schools: University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign University of Illinois at Chicago University of Illinois Springfield

In the fall of 2008, all employees of the University of Illinois system, including faculty members and graduate students, were notified by the University Ethics Office that they were prohibited under a state law from engaging in certain “prohibited political activity.” Examples of the activity banned “while working” or “while on University property” included wearing partisan shirts or pins, distributing or posting campaign literature, and even having a political bumper sticker on one’s car. FIRE wrote to University of Illinois President B. Joseph White on September 29, 2008, explaining that the Ethics Office’s guidelines were overbroad and violated the First Amendment rights of its faculty members. In response to FIRE’s letter, as well as criticism from other civil liberties organizations, President White sent an email to the entire University of Illinois community clarifying that the Ethics Office’s statement was not university policy, and committing to ensuring that university implementation of the state law would never infringe on its employees’ First Amendment rights.