Policy causes uproar

 

 

By Sarah Small

In anticipation of the election, University administration distributed a newsletter clarifying acceptable political participation that sparked concern among faculty and University employees.

The ‘Ethics Matters’ newsletter was sent to all University employees Sept. 18 and clarified a state law that regulates political activity for all state employees. Tom Hardy, spokesman for the University, said the newsletter was to answer questions faculty had about the law and how it applied to them on campus; however, many interpreted it as a violation of First Amendment rights.

“Faculty should exercise common sense, and it is unlikely that anyone will get busted for anything,” Hardy said.

A group of teaching assistants, led by Dan Colson, a teaching assistant and graduate student, organized a Barack Obama rally on the Quad to protest the policy interpretation.

“In short, this rally is an act of civil disobedience to demonstrate to whoever writes these policies that they don’t own our bodies or our minds,” Colson said.

After receiving criticisms from several different organizations, including the American Civil Liberties Union and the Graduate Employees Organization, President B. Joseph White sent an e-mail to the entire campus Oct. 6 that re-clarified the newsletter.

“The president decided the ‘Ethics Matters’ newsletter had parts that were overly broad as it applied to everyday life,” Hardy said.

The e-mail stated that employees can attend partisan rallies when not on University time, may wear partisan buttons or T-shirts when not in the workplace or on University time, and they may display partisan bumper stickers on their cars.

In his e-mail, president White essentially appeased unhappy University employees.

What to look for next semester:

Although concern with proper partisan activity has diminished since the conclusion of the election, the issues sparked from the ‘Ethics Matters’ newsletters continue to persist. The newsletter has given the University of Illinois the reputation of ignoring freedom of speech rights for its employees. Disregard for First Amendment rights on the University has been discussed at multiple meetings following October’s controversy, including at Urbana-Champaign Senate meetings. Also, different institutions have spoken about the necessity for an effort to redefine the state law.