Illinois State free-expression policy struck down

ILLINOIS — IllinoisState University students and faculty joined together last week in a successfulbid to strike down a proposed free-expression policy that opponents say couldhave severely limited free-speech on campus.The Freedom of ExpressionPolicy, a brainchild of the college’s academic senate proposed limiting speechon campus in ways never before addressed by administrators.The proposedpolicy, however, was struck down after 1,500 students, faculty and staff voicedtheir opposition by presenting a petition to the senate during a scheduleddebate of the issue. Due to the overwhelming opposition to the policy, thesenate moved for an early vote, and the policy received only a one-voteendorsement.If passed the policy would have limited mass gatherings ofstudents to four “designated forum areas” on campus and banned the use of signswith sticks or poles for picketing. The proposal also highly suggested thatstudents register to use the forum area at least 48 hours before a scheduledevent Distribution of fliers, newspapers and other literary materials alsowould have been prohibited inside campus buildings without first gaining writtenpermission. The policy also raised questions dealing with symbolic speech andnoise regulations.Opponents contended the designated areas were locatedaway from the high-traffic areas of students and would severely limitparticipation and awareness of events.Illinois State faculty questionedthe need for a policy because the college is not known for hosting political orotherwise hostile protests, said Jim Reid, professor and senatemember.”The activist groups are quite small and quite active,” Reidsaid. “We’ve had no problems before [with the groups].”The proposal cameabout after two students wanting to host a protest on campus sought advice ofadministrators for the proper guidelines required for staging such an event. Butto the administrators’ surprise, very few rules and regulations regardingfree-expression on campus were addressed in the student handbook. Onlyone guideline addressing the use of amplification equipment and noisedisturbances is noted in the student handbook, Reid said.Senate chairmanand professor Lane Crothers said a freedom of expression policy should encouragestudent activism — not limit it.”I certainly support students andothers expressing their opinions about important issues in society and believethat the University has an obligation to encourage people to engage with issuesand argue for their positions,” Crothers said.The senate has notrequested a revision to the failed proposal. Crothers considers the issue dead.”There will be no central policy about shaping the form, location,content of political or other protest here at Illinois State for the foreseeablefuture,” Crothers said.