University chancellor’s attempt to prevent prospective students from learning of mascot controversy provokes lawsuit

ILLINOIS — The America Civil Liberties Union of Illinoisfiled a lawsuit against the University of Illinois at Urbana-ChampaignMarch 22 because of what it calls a restriction on free speechand expression by the university’s administration.

University Chancellor Michael Aiken sent an e-mail to the entireuniversity community March 2 prohibiting anyone from discussingthe university’s mascot, Chief Illiniwek, and the controversysurrounding it with any prospective student athletes.

The ACLU said the statement violated the First Amendment rightsof those on campus and is seeking to prevent Aiken from enforcingthe prohibition on faculty and students.

On March 19, Aiken read a statement to the campus senate, sayingthat while the university "values and defends the principlesof free speech we expect members of the university communityto respect NCAA rules," which he said prohibited such contactwith potential students.

Three days later the ACLU filed suit in federal district court.Chief Judge Joe Billy McDade assigned the case to Judge MichaelMihm. The first hearing in the case is scheduled for Wednesday,April 4 at 10 a.m.

Nicole Wagner, a reporter for The Daily Illini, saidthe university has not tried to restrict other speech on campusand that most students have not objected to the ban.

"There hasn’t been much reaction from students,"she said.

However, a group of faculty members on campus that believesthe mascot is offensive has objected to the e-mail.

"I find that imposed restraint is contrary to the missionof the university [potential students] should be aware thatthey’re participating in the denigration of a race of people,"said Professor Stephen Kaufman, a member of the group.