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Button Bans

University of Illinois Puts Limits on Political Speech

By John K. Wilson

Earlier this fall, the University of Illinois announced one of the most repressive policies in the country restricting political speech. According to administrators, all employees, including faculty, would be banned from attending campus rallies for candidates, prohibited from wearing any political buttons, and even outlawing political bumper stickers on their cars in campus parking lots. This grotesque interpretation of the ethics rules is both unconstitutional and a clear violation of academic freedom. Everyone should condemn this idea and the repression of free speech on campus. Not only does this affect all staff and faculty (which would be bad enough), but it also affects many students who also work as employees.

The University of Illinois later modified these rules by stating that bumper stickers would no longer be prohibited, and campus rallies would be allowed for employees not on the clock. But the button ban remains in place, and it is a disturbing signal that political speech is limited at a university, the place where free speech must remain sacrosanct.

This is not the first attack on free speech by the University of Illinois administration. In 2004, the U of I disciplined graduate student Tom Mackaman, a socialist candidate for the state legislature, because he sent an email press release about his candidacy via his student email account. The University of Illinois created a new policy to prohibit similar political advocacy on campus, and university spokesperson Lex Tate even claimed that faculty would not be allowed to invite a political candidate to campus. Now the censors who run the University of Illinois administration want to expand the bans on political expression.