The blogosphere and other media are lighting up in response to a memo circulated to faculty and staff of the University of Illinois by its University Ethics Office. The policy bans a wide variety of political activity on university property, including such research as "surveying or conducting an opinion poll related to anticipating an election outcome" and such activity as "wearing a pin or t-shirt in support of the Democratic Party or Republican Party." Amazingly, even political bumper stickers run afoul of the policy. Talk about overbroad. While the university has a legitimate interest, as a state actor, in making sure that faculty partisan expression does not seem to carry the official imprimatur of the university, the policy as outlined goes to clearly unreasonable lengths in seeking to preserve official neutrality.
Thankfully, the reaction on campus has been swift and decisive. According to Scott Jaschik at Inside Higher Ed, American Association of University Professors (AAUP) national president Cary Nelson "and other professors are circulating a draft statement outlining their objections to the ethics rules. ‘Although these rules are not at present being enforced, the AAUP deplores their chilling effect on speech, their interference with the educational process, and their implicit castigation of normal practice during political campaigns,’ the draft says."
Obviously, we object to the policy as well, and more on this matter from us is coming soon. In the meantime, for more about campus attempts to ban partisan speech, see Azhar’s post from yesterday—and stay tuned.