ACLU of Illinois Welcomes University's Action on "Chief Illiniwek" Issue as Victory for Free Speech

Affiliate: ACLU of Illinois
June 6, 2001 12:00 am

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CHICAGO–The American Civil Liberties Union of Illinois and its clients in a lawsuit against the University of Illinois today expressed hope that a new directive issued by e-mail from the office of Chancellor Michael Aiken signals the end of the University’s efforts to censor the speech of thousands of its students and faculty.

The new message retracts a previous order, dated March 2, 2001, requiring that all faculty and students wishing to contact “potential student athletes” receive pre-clearance from officials in the University’s Athletic Department.

“On behalf of our clients — students and faculty at the University — we are gratified by the Chancellor’s decision to withdraw his previous directive requiring all persons on campus to pre- clear their speech on important public policy issues with University officials,” said Harvey Grossman, legal director for the ACLU of Illinois.

“This action is consistent with the judge’s ruling in granting an emergency injunction,”” he added. “”Moreover, today’s action suggests that the University now recognizes the futility in defending a policy that had a decidedly chilling effect on free speech rights on the campus.”

Today’s e-mail from the Chancellor appears to end the requirement that students and faculty must “pre-clear” their efforts to speak to high school and junior college students about issues of public concern, including the University’s use of the Chief Illiniwek symbol.

United States District Court Judge Michael Mihm enjoined the March 2 pre-clearance directive, issuing a temporary restraining order on April 5, 2001. The judge ruled that pre-clearance requirement constituted an overbroad, standardless prior restraint on speech that violated the First Amendment rights of students and faculty to speak on issues of public controversy.

The injunction came as a result of a lawsuit that lawyers for the ACLU of Illinois brought on behalf of eight faculty members and students at the Urbana-Champaign campus who previously announced their determination to contact potential student-athletes in order to make them aware of the Illiniwek matter.

The ACLU also noted that today’s announcement from the Chancellor will need to be examined before the litigation over this dispute can be considered complete.

“We want to determine the permanence of the University’s new position and insure that all student and faculty have adequate notice of the retraction of the pre-clearance directive,” said Grossman.

While applauding the Chancellor’s actions, the ACLU of Illinois did raise a concern about the timing of the decision to rescind the Chancellor’s March 2 directive. The ACLU noted that today’s announcement comes days after the close of the 2000-2001 academic year at the Urbana-Champaign campus. Following the end of the academic year on May 20, most of the students and faculty members who received the original e-mail have left campus and may not receive today’s retraction of that message.

“It is somewhat frustrating that many of those targeted by the first message including both students and faculty did not receive this new announcement before leaving campus for the summer,” said the ACLU’s Grossman. “We are concerned that the chilling effect on protected speech that was created by the first directive may still be in place because of the timing of this announcement.”

The plaintiffs in the ACLU lawsuit, a group concerned about the University’s continued use of the Chief Illiniwek symbol at athletic events, also expressed satisfaction with today’s action.

“This is a great victory for the cause of free speech on the University of Illinois’ campus,” said Cydney A. Crue, one of the plaintiffs in the case and a leader in the effort to end the use of the Chief Illiniwek symbol.

“The Chancellor’s decision to rescind his March 2 directive allows students and faculty on this campus once again to involve themselves in public debate on important societal issues, no matter what position they hold on those issues. ”

“Today’s announcement is good news for the University of Illinois,” said Stephen J. Kaufman, a Professor of Biology and plaintiff in the lawsuit challenging the pre-clearance restriction. “The ability to engage in a full and vigorous debate on issues of concern is the hallmark of a great academic institution. Today, the University took an important step in upholding that tradition.”

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