University of Illinois Students and Faculty Challenge Gag Rule Set by Chancellor

Affiliate: ACLU of Illinois
March 22, 2001 12:00 am

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ACLU of Illinois
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FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

CHICAGO – In a federal lawsuit filed today, the American Civil Liberties Union of Illinois charged that efforts by the University of Illinois Chancellor to limit faculty and students’ public statements surrounding the school’s controversial use of Native American Chief Illiniwek as a school mascot are an unconstitutional limitation upon free speech rights.

The lawsuit, brought on behalf of seven faculty members and students, asks the court to stop Chancellor Michael Aiken from enforcing a sweeping prohibition on the speech rights of faculty and students contained in an e-mail message he sent on March 2, 2001 to persons across the campus.

“Officials acting on behalf of the University simply cannot mute one side of a debate because it may taint the school’s image,” said lead attorney Harvey Grossman, Legal Director for the ACLU of Illinois.

In late February, a coalition of students and faculty opposed to the continued use of Chief Illiniwek announced their intention to contact prospective athletic recruits for the purpose of informing them about the dispute.

Immediately following the February announcement, Chancellor Aiken issued a campus-wide directive stating that any contacts with prospective student athletes needed to be cleared by personnel from the Athletic Department.

“The stifling of protected speech cannot be justified by rules designed to create standards for recruiting,”” said Grossman. “”Faculty and students expressing legitimate viewpoints disagreeing with University policy are not trying to recruit prospective student-athletes.”

The ACLU first expressed the coalition’s free speech concerns in a letter directed to Chancellor Aiken on March 7, 2001. The Chancellor responded a week later in a letter saying that the policy outlined in his March 2 e-mail message would go forward. The response left the coalition and the ACLU no alternative to filing today’s complaint.

In court documents, attorneys for the ACLU argue that the e-mail message sent by Aiken already created a “chilling effect’ on the speech of those opposed to Chief Illiniwek’s appearance at sporting events. The ACLU also expresses concern that Aiken’s pre-clearance requirement for communication with prospective student athletes allows University officials to deny communication without having to provide any guidelines as to what is and isn’t acceptable.

“”It is not a productive strategy on the part of the administration to threaten the First Amendment rights of its faculty, staff or students,”” said Professor Brenda Farnell, a plaintiff in today’s lawsuit. “”Grievances and conflict, on this or any other issue, are best handled in a more democratic fashion.”

Professor Stephen Kaufman, another of the plaintiffs, said that students and faculty were deeply concerned about the issue confronting the campus. “We believe potential student-athletes should be aware of what they will be representing and what will be representing them as participants in the University’s sports programs,” he said.

The lawsuit was filed in the Central District of Illinois in Urbana. Plaintiffs Cydney Crue, John McKinn, Debbie Reese, Brenda Farnell, Frederick Hoxie, Stephen Kaufman and Philip Phillips seek to represent all faculty and students affected by the pre-clearance rule.

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