Questions still remain over ethics revisions

Following President B. Joseph White’s e-mail to University faculty members and students, some are still weary about what specifically is acceptable political expression.

“If the University can regulate anything, it can regulate when they are on the job or in the workplace,” said Steve Helle, First Amendment attorney and Illini Media’s attorney on retainer. “The real question is ‘what counts as on the job?'”

White’s e-mail made the policy clear for three specific instances of political expression.

Under the new interpretation, faculty can attend partisan rallies when not on University time, wear partisan T-shirts or buttons when not in the workplace or on University time, and display partisan bumper stickers on their cars parked in University parking lots.

“Those three are good,” Helle said. “Everyone applauds the president for those.”

But he said two questions are still unanswered. The first is if the University can regulate freedoms of speech at all, and secondly, where the University can impose these regulations.

“I guess I’m more concerned about what on the job means and I’m not even quite sure the University can regulate my rights,” Helle said.

While all state universities must abide by the State Officials and Employers Ethics Act, the University is the only one that elicited a strong response from faculty and students.

The University’s Chicago and Springfield campuses both received the same “Ethics Matters” newsletter. However, there was very little concern expressed from either of the universities, said Tom Hardy, spokesman for the University.

“Initially there was some concern, but there was greater agitation on the Urbana campus,” Hardy said.

Marc Lebovitz, a spokesman from Illinois State University, said there was very little concern amongst faculty on his campus.

According to the code of ethics at Illinois State University, “Outside the classroom the faculty member has the same right as any other citizen to participate in political activities.”

Additionally, for graduate students, when they are in the classroom teaching, they have the rights of university employees, but when they are in their own classes they have the rights of a student, Lebovitz said.

At the Urbana-Champaign Senate meeting Monday, faculty and students their concerns.

“We don’t want the University to be legislating when and where we can express our views,” said Jim Barrett, history professor. “If they are defined broadly we are definitely stripped of our rights.”

Hardy said some concern will probably continue until November’s election, but hopes White’s e-mail will qualm discontent.

“(White) and his staff will be working with state officials to see if there are things that can be done to define things that might be confusing,” Hardy said.

Marie Wilson contributed to this story.