Friday forum: Attack on speech

Matt Vroom

Matt Vroom

By The Daily Illini

In September, the University administration issued me an unsigned “ticket,” alleging that I had illegally used my student account for “private purposes, including political campaigning,” and threatening me with “disciplinary action.”

The administrator under whose authority the ticket was issued, Dr. Richard Traver, has to date never explained its origin. In order to retroactively justify its charges, which had no legal basis, administrators have since updated the Campus Administrative Manual to specifically outlaw “political campaign activities.” This gag order against me – the first of its kind – represents a blatant attack on freedom of speech and might be used in the future to silence all forms of expression University administrators find troubling.

In articles published in both The Daily Illini and The Champaign-Urbana News-Gazette, administrative spokesmen have claimed that registered student organizations (RSOs) may still announce and publicize events on campus, mentioning Young Republicans and College Democrats by name. Interesting, then, that the apparent e-mail in dispute was a news release to an event hosted by a socialist RSO – Students for Social Equality. The administration’s message is clear: freedom of speech – maybe; just watch what you say!

It is no accident that the administration’s new policy is deliberately vague. In the end, it is meant to provide a pseudo-legal basis for silencing all forms of political speech it finds objectionable. The University bureaucracy has reserved for itself the role of policeman, judge, jury and executioner. It alone will determine what constitutes a “political campaign,” as witnessed in its selective attack on me. Furthermore, I have been offered no due process to challenge the ticket’s legitimacy.

This is a dangerous precedent. Will forwarding political e-mails or reading political journals online eventually come under attack? If University bureaucrats can claim the right to silence freedom of speech on a private e-mail account, what’s to stop them from doing so on “their” computers and servers? In the event of a strike, will the rule be used against unions to prevent them from communicating with their rank-and-file? Will student organizations that protest administration policies face censure? Moreover, if the administration can – without announcement or discussion – alter its manual to retroactively justify groundless charges, what will stop it from doing so again in the future?

Get The Daily Illini in your inbox!

  • Catch the latest on University of Illinois news, sports, and more. Delivered every weekday.
  • Stay up to date on all things Illini sports. Delivered every Monday.
This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy Policy and Terms of Service apply.
Thank you for subscribing!

Even more ominous is the question of how the rule will be enforced. Will University bureaucrats intercept e-mails of students suspected of engaging in “political campaigning?” Or will students and teachers be asked to inform on one another? It bears repeating that, to date, the administration never has explained the origins of its case against me.

The administration’s unprecedented gag order on me, and its attack on freedom of speech do not exist in a political vacuum. Under conditions of a presidential election in which the political and media establishment is attempting to bury the most pressing problems confronting U.S. workers and students – above all else, the war in Iraq and its relationship to the deepening social crisis – the University administration has enlisted themselves in the effort to silence serious criticism.

Tom Mackaman

graduate student

Socialist Equality Party candidate for District 103