October 7, 2008

Exposed to criticism, the University of Illinois backs away from its limits on political speech.

Inside Higher Ed reports:
The controversy over political expression on campus stunned professors. Many colleges, especially public institutions, distribute reminders in election years about permitted and barred political activity. These policies typically bar the use of college funds for campaign activities and may direct employees to be sure that their public statements about candidates do not imply an endorsement by the institution.

At Illinois, however, a memo went out to employees at all three campuses barring employees from wearing political buttons on campus, having bumper stickers on cars parked on campus, or attending political rallies on campus. Because many professors do wear buttons and attend rallies, the policy infuriated faculty members. The American Association of University Professors condemned the limits for “their chilling effect on speech, their interference with the educational process, and their implicit castigation of normal practice during political campaigns.” The rules were not enforced, but the university also declared them to be policy.
Yes, it's important for universities to be clear about the specific thing that is wrong, properly stated above as: 1. appropriating university resources for use in a political campaign and 2. creating the appearance that the university itself is endorsing a candidate. The problem arises when a state university, concerned about those 2 things that are to be proscribed, bars things that seem similar, as if it's good to be extra careful. But these additional things are tremendously important political free speech. You don't include them just to be safe. You take extra care to exclude them with crisply drawn lines.

Now, universities, learn from the University of Illinois' embarrassment and rewrite those policies.

***

Here's the policy at the University of Wisconsin. Help me rewrite it.

42 comments:

Dust Bunny Queen said...

What's wrong with it?

John Burgess said...

I agree with DBQ. This looks like a fundamentally sound policy.

I do agree that faculty should not be wearing candidate/party buttons or similar identification.

Revenant said...

I think it is a good thing that faculty be allowed to wear candidate or party buttons. If they want to advertise their biases, good for them; it beats the hell out of pretending that universities are politically neutral, or that professors are objective commentators on politics.

Yachira said...

The faculty was infuriated! We're shocked, shocked!!


Yeah right
.

Dust Bunny Queen said...

I think it is a good thing that faculty be allowed to wear candidate or party buttons

On their own time. Not in the class where they are "supposed" to be teaching a subject with objectivity. The parents of the students and the students themselves are paying for a service. An education. As such they deserve to receive that service without being subject to campaign speeches or other political discussions that are not relevant to the service they are paying for.

How would you like to take your car to the mechanic and be forced to listen to an anti Obama or pro McCain diatribe for the 45 minutes or so that it takes to get your oil changed? I bet you would find another mechanic. I would. The students in college don't have that luxury.

SGT Ted said...

Agree with Althouse and DBQ. Wearing a campaign button during work hours should be banned. The college students who are paying for their education didn't pay for that. Nor should they. The professors are free to festoon their car with all the bumperstickers supporting their favorite leftist authoritarianism, but it doesn't belong in the classroom.

Revenant said...

On their own time. Not in the class where they are "supposed" to be teaching a subject with objectivity.

But wearing the pin advertises the fact that they AREN'T objective.

Consider two scenarios:

(1): A professor explains that John McCain's economic plan is bad for America.

(2): A professor wearing a "Barack Obama for President" sweatshirt explains that John McCain's economic plan is bad for America.

Which of those two scenarios is better for the students? I think scenario two is obviously better, because any college student with two functioning brain cells to rub together is going to think "this is a McCain opponent telling me his plan is bad, so I should take what he says with a grain of salt". In scenario one, the student is tricked into believing the guy teaching him has no personal feelings about the Presidential race.

mcg said...

I'm with Revenant on this one: the more disclosure of a professor's biases, the better. Banning the expression of such biases doesn't serve the student's interest at all.

How would you like to take your car to the mechanic and be forced to listen to an anti Obama or pro McCain diatribe for the 45 minutes or so that it takes to get your oil changed?

That's not an apt analogy. What we're talking about here is simply taking your car to a mechanic who is wearing an Obama button.

David said...

Do you think this policy is long enough?

How about requiring all faculty to take courses in "how to be humble."

MadisonMan said...

I also think it's foolish to ban the simple act of wearing a button. One can wear a button and do one's job very effectively.

Actively campaigning on company time? Well, that's not what you are paid to do, so stop it. Do what you are paid to do.

Revenant said...

That's not an apt analogy. What we're talking about here is simply taking your car to a mechanic who is wearing an Obama button.

Besides, if you force them to refrain from mentioning specific candidates they'll just switch to an ostensibly "neutral" diatribe that still covers the relevant talking points. The professor who ranted to my class about how the first Gulf War was proof of American fascism didn't come right out and say that George Bush should be voted out of office in 1992, but it didn't exactly take a lot of deep analysis to figure out that's what he hoped would happen.

I think DBQ is arguing for a bias-free classroom. That'd be nice, but I view that as basically impossible. Universities are and will continue to be places where political views range from "left-leaning" to "paleo-Marxist". There WILL be leftist bias in the classroom, the only question is whether or not it is hidden from view. Hiding it from view was what this "no politics" policy was all about, I suspect. Universities have come under fire for being political monopoles, and since they can't replace the faculty the next best thing is to conceal their affiliations.

kimsch said...

It's not just Illinois' fault... the Governor's Office of Executive Inspector General put out a statement about the state's ethics law that muddled the situation to say the least:
…university students, not just employees, were prohibited from participating in political rallies on campus—an assertion at odds with the University of Illinois’ interpretation of the law.

“Anything that benefits a political campaign is prohibited on state property,” said Gilbert Jimenez, deputy inspector general. The results of any investigations of campus activity would be turned over the university’s board of trustees with recommendations for discipline, including possible dismissal, Jimenez said.

(cite: http://thecapitolfaxblog.com/2008/10/03/students-now-banned-from-all-campus-political-activity/)

Dust Bunny Queen said...

(1): A professor explains that John McCain's economic plan is bad for America.

(2): A professor wearing a "Barack Obama for President" sweatshirt explains that John McCain's economic plan is bad for America.


Neither is acceptable because the teachers need to STFU about their personal political leanings and teach the GD class that they are paid to teach.

If they want to campaign off campus, attend rallies not during their teaching time, plaster their houses and cars with bumper stickers, have at it.

On their own time, period. Not on my time, my child's time or anyone else who is paying for an education. God knows, our education system turns out idiots enough already without further wasting people's precious time with political and personal opinions. No one says they should have personal or political opinions. Just that they don't belong at work or in the classroom.

Seriously teachers. STFU and teach.

Dust Bunny Queen said...

Actively campaigning on company time? Well, that's not what you are paid to do, so stop it. Do what you are paid to do.

Wearing a campaign button IS actively campaigning and that is why it is forbidden at many many places of employment.

I don't want to know what the teacher/professor's political persuasions are in the classroom. It should never be a part of the classroom experience. I might know what their political persuasions are from other sources and that is just fine. After all teachers are human with personal biases and opinions. What I want is the teacher to do their freaking job. Teach literature, biology, history, chemistry and whatever the subject is with complete objectivity and keep their opinions to themselves while at work. Yes, bias free. If the worker can't do that then they need to find another line of work.

If I were to go to the mechanic and he was wearing an Obama button (not likely where I live) or a McCain button AT WORK....I would think it highly inappropriate.

Triangle Man said...

Ann, I'm happy to help you rewrite the policy. I've started by selecting all of the text and deleting it. I think that's a great first draft. Any changes you would make?

The other comments show a patlericularly narrow view of what of means to be a Univeristy employee. Teaching college students covers a lot of people, but is too limited to allow for a meaningful policy. Little of the policy deals with anything related to classroom conduct. Even in that limited venue, however, how about a class on public policy analysis, or economic comparisons of the candidates' health plans?

Dust Bunny Queen said...

Even in that limited venue, however, how about a class on public policy analysis, or economic comparisons of the candidates' health plans?

What about it? Can't you do that without wearing campaign buttons?

Are you saying it's impossible to be objective, to be able to put aside your personal biases, when teaching those subjects? If that's the case, then you are a piss poor educator.

Triangle Man said...

DBQ, so it is all about the button?

mcg said...

I don't want to know what the teacher/professor's political persuasions are in the classroom. It should never be a part of the classroom experience.

This is horribly naive. A teacher or professor's personal views necessarily affect the teaching of the subject whether you want it that way or not, or even whether the teacher wants it that way or not.

Of course, if the class is engineering or hard science or whatnot, then yes the presidential election ought have no bearing on the topics discussed. I think it's reasonable to expect a politics-free engagement there. But that doesn't mean that the topics aren't shaped by the professor's opinion. I'm going to be teaching a graduate course next year (optimization) and I intend to cover the material in a considerably different way than is traditionally done. But of course I'm going to share my opinions on that right from the start: what the flaws of the traditional approach are, the advantages of my approach. I've convinced my superiors of the merit of at least giving it a shot, so we'll see.

But for classes that do involve issues that intersect with politics, it is unreasonable to expect that the professor's political views will not shape and influence the course material. It need not be explicit and overt; revenant gave examples of "neutral-sounding" language, for instance. But it can be even more subtle than that: the choice of reading materials, the inclusion or exclusion of specific topics, etc.

It is reasonable to expect a professor to avoid advancing a political agenda in the classroom. It is not reasonable to expect a professor's biases have no bearing on the class being taught. Better, then, that the professor's biases be stated explicitly so that the students can adjust their filters accordingly.

MadisonMan said...

Wearing a campaign button IS actively campaigning

Well, I disagree with that atatement. Actively campaigning, to me, is talking/arguing/marching. Wearing a button so someone can see who you support? Not active.

I don't think we'll agree here :)

MadisonMan said...

optimization

Speaking as a software developer for something used on multiple platforms and built with different compilers, let me just say that optimizing makes life difficult.

Dust Bunny Queen said...

DBQ, so it is all about the button?

No... you purposly obtuse idiot, it's all about not injecting your political and personal opinions into the workplace. It is about doing the job you were hired to do while at your place of employment.... and nothing else.

If your job is a teacher, bank teller, grocery clerk, or auto mechanic...it is the same. STFU and do your job or get fired.

Revenant said...

Neither is acceptable because the teachers need to STFU about their personal political leanings and teach the GD class that they are paid to teach.

I don't consider either McCain or Obama to be an acceptable President. Nevertheless, one of the two men will be President. That's just how it is.

The reason we're disagreeing is that you're concerned with eliminating indoctrination from the classroom and I'm concerned with how to best prepare students from the indoctrination they will inevitably be exposed to. I don't see a way of achieving the indoctrination-free college classroom you envision, although I agree that it would be great if we had a way of preventing such indoctrination.

Revenant said...

Are you saying it's impossible to be objective, to be able to put aside your personal biases, when teaching those subjects?

Most subjects don't have an objective truth value. If a professor emphasizes leftist political philosophy and is dismissive towards other political philosophies, there is no way for some sort of Truth Police to prove that he's ignoring good philosophy in favor of bad. There isn't even a way to prove that he isn't giving everybody a fair shake.

Ideas like Marxism persist because they are constructed in a manner which makes them immune to refutation. Unless we want to give government the power to forbid the teaching of non-falsifiable ideas (in which case say goodbye to theology and literary criticism) I don't see how we go about preventing professors from saying that Marxism (for example) is a good idea. That's assuming we even wanted to do so; I think there's a lot of utility in letting idiots self-identify.

Ann Althouse said...

I think the button issue is the least of it. What bothers me about the UW policy is that it makes you worry that a lot of things that you should do and be proud of doing are in fact forbidden.

I'm especially concerned about teaching and having discussions with students and also writing commentary. Free speech here is very important.

For example, yesterday we hosted a talk from a Cato Institute representative who explained what he thought would be the difference between Obama and McCain for judicial appointments. We had a big discussion about that and pushed back quite a bit against his conclusion that McCain would be better. Later I carried the discussion into my conlaw class, not telling them whom to vote for, but exploring the political dynamics relating to judicial appointments, especially regarding the right to privacy, which we've been studying for weeks. After class, I had a 20 minute discussion with one student about law and politics. I consider all that to be affirmatively good, and I don't think the written policy should create worries about whether it is.

dick said...

I am afraid I agree with DBQ. Are the rest of the state employees permitted to wear political buttons at their offices? If not, then the professors should not be either. You are, believe it or not, a state employee and what pertains to the other state employees should also pertain to you. Politics should have no place in a state place of employment.

mcg said...

Speaking as a software developer for something used on multiple platforms and built with different compilers, let me just say that optimizing makes life difficult.

I feel for ya, but that's not the kind of optimization I'm doing... mine is of the mathematical sort. So thankfully it's not my fault your life is difficult :)

Trooper York said...

I thought Twat Talk was the official name of The View?

Mary said...

I thought Twat Talk was the official name of The View?

Maybe, but surely it's not Twat Talk by UW Law Professor Ann Althouse.

Two masters -- pick the one you want to serve: your blog, or your classroom. Continuing to pretend that putting yourself on display here, warts and all, has no effect in UW's public classrooms is silly.

And this is spoken as someone who understands the way discussions are moderated in her UW Law classroom...

Trooper York said...

I don't think the professor's twat talks all that much. Or even gets around very much.

I do know the few times we met at an Althouse meet up she did break wind.

And you know, the wind cried Mary.

Mary said...

That's so funny Trooper. Good one!

But I'm sure talking about Ann's twat here to up the numbers, and those discussions in the classroom she is so "proud of" are clearly separate and not to be confused in anyone's mind...

It's that dismissive humor that anyone who doesn't subscribe to your beliefs is to be ridiculed, that's not cool in the classroom.

mcg said...

Anyone who can't tell the difference between the classroom and a blog... well... damn I don't even have a recommendation for someone that screwed up.

This blog fits the Revenant-mcg "disclosure" model just fine. I personally think students ought to get as clear a picture of the person they're learning from as they can. Nobody's stopping them to come over to this blog and check out what's up.

mcg said...

"to come" ---> "from coming"
argh

MadisonMan said...

Careful, mcg, you said 'come', and banned Mary will interpret that sexually.

Triangle Man said...

dust dunny queen said...

No... you purposly obtuse idiot,


fail

it's all about not injecting your political and personal opinions into the workplace. It is about doing the job you were hired to do while at your place of employment.... and nothing else

Thanks for the clarification.

I gave examples of academic scenarios that may run up against the types of political activity mentioned in the policy and discussed in the comments. The point is that broadly written campus political speech codes are subject to abuse. If you don't want the President of the University sending out request for campaign contributions on letterhead, that's one thing. If you think that any employee of a University should be barred from expressing an opinion about anything remotely related to politics, then forget it.

MadisonMan said...

It's the old story. Some administrator doesn't want to think about or deal with individual cases as they come up, so they instead come up with a smothering blanket to snuff out anything remotely objectionable.

Result: No one talks, and the administrator can sit in their office and play solitaire on the computer. Nice work if you can get it.

Alas, sometimes common sense will win out, as perhaps at Illinois. Now, administrators might actually have to do work.

Mary said...

Anyone who can't tell the difference between the classroom and a blog... well... damn I don't even have a recommendation for someone that screwed up.

Well, I sure can tell the difference. It's great to know that my professor thinks it's cool to "talk twat" outside the classroom. Really ups the Law School's rep, you know!

Careful, mcg, you said 'come', and banned Mary will interpret that sexually.

Lol, MadisonMan. You're right. Only the uneducated outside of Madison would suspect that talking about "twat" could be interpreted sexually.

Say, do you talk dirty in your classroom while wearing your Obama button to "teach" your students? Ah, the joys of public salaries, eh? (and good looking coeds too, eh? -- what a job!)

Why not take care of your personal business on your own time and dime, is all we're saying?

Trooper York said...

You know I remember meeting a stripper named Sable who had a talking twat at Flashdancers in 1983. I mean her twat didn't actually talk but she could flap it and it would make sounds like you can do when you put your hand under your arm. It was like her twat farted.

She eventually could even twat fart out songs. I think she could do take me out to the ballgame and Benny and the jets.

Made a lot of tips.

mcg said...

Well, I sure can tell the difference. It's great to know that my professor thinks it's cool to "talk twat" outside the classroom. Really ups the Law School's rep, you know!

It might damage it's rep among the stick-up-the-ass crowd, I agree. But I think people can compartmentalize. I had quite a few interesting characters in my overly long academic career, and I couldn't care less what they did outside of the classroom. I mean, I suppose I would have if one of them had set off bombs at the Capitol or met with Chavez and praised him at a Venezuelan rally or somesuch. But discussing plants that look like scrotums on a blog? Puh-leeze.

Why not take care of your personal business on your own time and dime, is all we're saying?

No, actually, it's not all you're saying. You've gone further than that and claimed that the very existence of this blog diminishes the reputation of the law school, which would still be true no matter how judiciously Ann separated her personal and professional time and resources. Nevermind that in academia those two realms are indeed blurred somewhat. It's one of the perks.

John Burgess said...

There are lots of constitutionally protected acts that lose protection due to time or place. Sex, for one.

State laws prohibiting state employees from wearing partisan political paraphernalia while on the job is a fair restriction, in my book.

It's easy enough to tell the political affiliation of professors, particularly if they are in default mode. It becomes utterly obvious when the party they do not support wins an election and all they can talk about is the sky falling.

Laws, regulations, and policies exist to govern general cases. They are designed to stop the necessity of dealing with every case in its particulars, looking for possible extenuation, as that devours time and resources inordinately.

That sometimes means having to think about how or if a policy might apply. Do I signal for a turn 20-feet or 25-feet before an intersection? How far away from a stopped school bus must I halt?

Is my speech too partisanly political for a classroom?

That strikes me as a reasonable question to be asking if speech is going to be political in the least.

Revenant said...

You do realize that Mary is one of the trolls that has been hanging around here for years, right?

mcg said...

No, I did not. But as long as she keeps setting 'em up so they're easy to knock down, I don't care.

Kelly said...

Do you see this as different from the Hatch Act (http://www.osc.gov/ha_fed.htm) which forbids federal employees from "engaging in political activity while on duty" and "wearing partisan political buttons while on duty"?