Education

My Shih Tzu Is a Republican (Campus Button Police Edition)

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A short while back, the indispensable Inside Higher Education ran an interesting story about University of Illinois' "button police":

The university system's ethics office sent a notice to all employees, including faculty members, telling them that they could not wear political buttons on campus or feature bumper stickers on cars parked in campus lots unless the messages on those buttons and stickers were strictly nonpartisan. In addition, professors were told that they could not attend political rallies on campuses if those rallies express support for a candidate or political party.

Faculty leaders were stunned by the directives. Some wrote to the ethics office to ask if the message was intended to apply to professors; they were told that it was. At Illinois campuses, as elsewhere, many professors do demonstrate their political convictions on buttons, bumper stickers and the like.

Cary Nelson, a professor at the Urbana-Champaign campus and national president of the American Association of University Professors, said that he believes he is now violating campus policy when he drives to work because he has a bumper sticker that proclaims: "MY SAMOYED IS A DEMOCRAT."

More here.

I've never bought into the idea of a university as a safe haven from the hurly-burly of everyday society, including  and maybe especially politics. This is particularly true of state-supported insitutions such as Illinois, where the space is totally embedded in politics of the most basic sort. I'm also always wary of attempts to stymie any sort of speech or discussion. They are almost always noxious (and almost always ineffective to boot).

However, I do find something intimidating and unseemly about people in power positions pushing a very particular political agenda, especially in a way that is not explicitly dialogic. I don't think there should be a ham-fisted policy such as Illinois', but as I've suggested before in connection to a different case of professorial political speech, actually foregrounding debate and disagreement, along with pushing actual pluralism, would make campuses much more interesting.

A related follow-up: In the town I live in in Ohio (and where my sons attend public school), there's a bond issue for a new high school on the November ballot. A few weeks ago, students were offered free pro-school bond T-shirts during lunch (no public funds were used to create the shirts, which were handed out by school administrators and teachers). Regardless of the point of view expressed on the T-shirt, is this acceptable behavior? Does the involuntary nature of K-12 education change the rules compared to college (that is, if going somewhere is mandatory, should the free speech of people be curtailed somehow)?

Update: Scott Stein sends along this interesting exchange about politics and the classroom from the blog When Falls the Coliseum. A snippet:

Two of my favorite professors in college were politically conservative. Sometimes their conservatism spilled over into the courses they taught. In fact, I would say that their conservatism was fundamental in some ways to what they were teaching.

This did not bother me or my friends at the time because we knew both of these people were spectacularly smart and interesting. And there was room in their classes to reach conclusions at variance to what the professors reached. They also avoided extraneous comments about controversial issues that could be divisive.

More here.

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  1. I am f-ing sick of people using children as helpless pawns in their political games. That is absolutely disgusting and highlights the point about foregrounding debate and pluralism. The effects of this “harmless” behavior are profound.

  2. Mr. Gillespie,
    Are you confident that if the folks in town against the bond issue brought free T’s for the kids, the aministration would gladly hand em out during lunch?

  3. that is, if going somewhere is mandatory, should the free speech of people be curtailed somehow

    Absolutely not. It’s even more imperative to have freedom of speech in this case because people can’t choose to avoid it.

  4. Hmm. These campaign buttons are all partisan. Don’t you have any neutral ones? “May the better man win,” “Let’s have a good, clean election,” that sort of thing?

  5. I don’t think that free speech should be curtailed for students of public education, but I am damn sure pissed that Talawanda is using its administrators to pass its outrageous levy (4.7 mills!)

  6. I work for the government. You should see the stuff the higher ups push us to vote for. Bonds, bills, etc… No candidates – explicitly yet – but you’d better watch what you talk about. Mention “Gubmint = bad”, you might not get that promotion you hoped for.

  7. or feature bumper stickers on cars parked in campus lots unless the messages on those buttons and stickers were strictly nonpartisan.

    So, as long as your bumper sticker advocates violence against *all* politicians, you’re good to go?

  8. Re the Talawanda levy:

    An analogous situation happened when the Hawaii legislature legalized abortion pre-Roe. The Catholic Church was virtually the only opposition to the effort (apart from a lone guy in Maui who tried, unsuccessfully, to build statewide opposition to the issue). Kids at Hawaii’s Catholic schools were sent home with letters from the Diocese of Honolulu urging parents to write to their legislators in opposition to the measure. When this effort made headlines, a number of educators at public schools sent *their* students home with letters (from teachers’ unions and the like, not from the schools themselves) urging parents to write their legislators to support abortion. No one raised much of a stink about either effort, from what I remember, though a few letter-to-the-editor writers wondered aloud about the propriety of using kids to get parents to write the legislature. (I spent *waaay* too much time in law school researching Alaska and Hawaii’s pre-Roe abortion laws.)

    But, in any event, if this levy is anything like the one really controversial Talawanda levy that passed back in my student days at Miami (I think 2002, but I don’t remember), it’ll all turn on how many Miami students register in Oxford, and it will probably end the same way that one did–with the levy passing thanks to an overwhelming “yes” vote from non-taxable students and Milford and Reily townships making blustery noises about seceding from the school district.

  9. I know (or used to know, they may have retired by now) a couple of faculty at UIUC. I can’t imagine them putting up with this.

    At my campus, half the faculty have Obama posters on their office doors.

  10. OK, we have too mnay Chucks now.

  11. Sorry about that. I’ll come up with a new name…

  12. Several years ago there was an initiative on the Florida ballot to amend the constitution to create a separate governing board for the university system that would be (relatively) insulated from legislative meddling. Jeb!’s administration lobbied ferociously and shamelessly against it, despite there being explicit statutory prohibitions against using state funds for political advocacy. We routinely got emails from state offices against it; the front page of the Florida Board of Education web site was plastered with advertisements against it. The initiative passed anyway, although some aspects of it are still tied up in court. Government “neutrality” is only for the little people (see John Walters).

  13. No need to come up with a new name. Tell you what, we’ll BOTH change our names to joe. That’ll really make things exciting.

  14. I’m not so worried about the state employees’ personal speech. It’s the government campaigning on our dime that bothers me the most:

    The U.S. deputy drug czar will be in Grand Rapids Monday to campaign against an initiative on the state’s Nov. 4 ballot that would legalize marijuana use for serious medical conditions such as cancer and glaucoma.

    Scott Burns, named by President Bush to head the nation’s drug control office in 2007, will speak at a 1:30 p.m. press conference at the Amway Grand Plaza Hotel. He will be joined by state Court of Appeals Judge Schuette and members of the Michigan Sheriffs’ Association.

  15. Are professors more “political” now than in the nineties? I don’t remember any inappropriate expressions politics when I went to college.

  16. I’m all for allowing everyone — teachers and students — to wear any buttons or T-shirts or whatnot, political or not, that they want. Schools are a statist indoctrination zone, as I’m getting an earful from my oldest daughter about, so restricting the use of buttons means that only one side — the statist bullshit articulated by the teachers in the classroom — gets heard.

    What I would oppose would be allowing “free speech” so long as it wasn’t deemed “offensive” — with any anti-statist messages falling into the offensive zone, but PC messages getting a pass. And I thoroughly oppose teachers handing out T-shirts expressing a certain (almost certainly statist) viewpoint to their students to wear, because there is a coercive, “wear the T-shirt or maybe your grade suffers, hmmm?” aspect to it, in particular in K-12 where school attendence is mandatory and confiscatory, compulsory taxation means many parents have been deprived of the funds to send their kids to non-public schools.

  17. The U.S. deputy drug czar will be in Grand Rapids Monday to campaign against an initiative on the state’s Nov. 4 ballot that would legalize marijuana use for serious medical conditions such as cancer and glaucoma.

    while i can believe these assholes are still doing this, i can’t believe these assholes are still doing this.

  18. What perfect irony that in a state with the absolutely most partisan system of governance, the institutions that should be encouraging discussion (in a civilized and academic way of course) are subjected to a gag rule. My bet is that there is no gag rule in Chicago when one of the local party bosses visits a concrete vendor for a little grease money for the next contract. I doubt that political neutrality is called into play when the good-ol-boy backscratcher rewards loyal votegetters with do nothing state jobs.

    This HAS to be the most crooked state I have ever lived in. What a crock that UofI has this rule. I agree with the poster that said we should all have bumper stickers with the phrase, “throw the bums out”. At least it’s non-partisan.

  19. Woo! Go Illini! (college of law, class of ’01).

    But yeah, this is monumentally stupid. I’m sure they’re still reeling from the whole Chief thing.

  20. By the way, how long before a grad student TA just plasters him or herself with buttons, and makes the “I’m not an employee” argument. When I was a TA about eight years ago, the whole union debate was going on. Not sure if either side ever relented.

  21. I am f-ing sick of people using children as helpless pawns in their political games.

    Well, color me guilty. I sent my little girl off to kindergarten today with a stack of Girl Scout flyers to be distributed to the other girls in her class.

  22. Regardless of the point of view expressed on the T-shirt, is this acceptable behavior?

    No.

    Does the involuntary nature of K-12 education change the rules compared to college (that is, if going somewhere is mandatory, should the free speech of people be curtailed somehow)?

    Yes, sort of, but it should be unacceptable in a publicly funded university too.

    However, what do you expect from the “gun schools” Nick? True fairness or Leftoid fairness?

    OT: Pick your spin for a personally observed oddity, this AM, on my way to work.

    1. The 7-election 08 campaign in Orlando FL is running out of McCain coffee cups

    2. The 7-election 08 campaign in Orlando FL is intentionally redusing the availability of McCain coffee cups

    3. The 7-election 08 campaign in Orlando FL sells so few McCain coffee cups they are only ordering Obama coffee cups

    4. The 7-election 08 campaign in Orlando FL is racist because Obama supporters can’t afford coffee under the Bush regime and are suffering in disproportinate numbers under the great depression sweeping America

    5. The 7-election 08 campaign in Orlando FL is not bothering with McCain coffee cups because rich Capitalist abusers of immigrant workers never stop in for coffee, just for cheap day labor

    6. The 7-election 08 campaign in Orlando FL is running out of McCain coffee cups due to sloppy stock ordering practices

  23. BTW, my vote for the 2:04 poll is #6, but let’s just keep that our little secret, k?

  24. “My chihuahua is Chavista”

  25. My Golden is a market anarchist.

  26. Dilemma. A private institution has a right to pass any regulations on employee behavior so long as their contract is not violated. If my employer told me to stand on my head every Saturday morning, I could chose not to comply and risk being fired.

    Yes, the university is a public institution. However, it also gets MASSIVE amounts of funding from private sources. It’s not a branch of the government.

    The president of the university recently drafted a compromise: you can use bumper stickers on your cars, and you can join protests as long as they are not during business hours. Seems sensible to me.

    (’04 alumnus)

  27. egosumabbas,

    Yes, the university is a public institution. However, it also gets MASSIVE amounts of funding from private sources. It’s not a branch of the government.

    Can you expand on this theory? I can see where your usage of “branch of government” does not apply to a University, even though a State Institution is a creature of the State.

    Can this theory be applied elsewhere? Can Soldiers stop following lawful orders because the Morale & Welfare activities on various military bases get substantial private funding?

  28. So today in my 19th century philosophy class we had a “guest lecture” who gave us a talk on Capitalism in Crisis. Admittedly we are currently studying Marx (it was the only way I could be induced to read him).

    The guy is from the geography department, and was speaking about the Argentine economic crisis and workers collectives. He was wearing a Red with Yellow lettering “CCCP” T-shirt. I could mention the scraggly hair and beard, but really the shirt is all you need to know.

    According to him, Marx was a “man of peace”. Not exactly sure how being a revolutionary fits in with that.

  29. According to him, Marx was a “man of peace”. Not exactly sure how being a revolutionary fits in with that.

    Was Marx all that much of a killer revolutionary? You know, just because Lennin stole the man’s work to begin a big murder spree in the name of fairness and all does not exactly mean that Marx was all over that idea.

  30. @guy montag

    “Can you expand on this theory? I can see where your usage of “branch of government” does not apply to a University, even though a State Institution is a creature of the State.”

    The construction of every new engineering building is financed by a private corporation. Also, I wonder who pays for the sports facilities. Tuition and enrollment is also voluntary. I look at it more as a state-sponsored corporation; the government pays for some of it, but it’s not the government.

    “Was Marx all that much of a killer revolutionary?”

    Two words: class warfare.

  31. “Can this theory be applied elsewhere? Can Soldiers stop following lawful orders because the Morale & Welfare activities on various military bases get substantial private funding?”

    Soldiers don’t have to buy their own weapons (books), training (tuition), and room & board.

  32. egosumabbas,

    @guy montag

    “Can you expand on this theory? I can see where your usage of “branch of government” does not apply to a University, even though a State Institution is a creature of the State.”

    The construction of every new engineering building is financed by a private corporation. Also, I wonder who pays for the sports facilities. Tuition and enrollment is also voluntary. I look at it more as a state-sponsored corporation; the government pays for some of it, but it’s not the government.

    Wow, just wow.

    A State institution IS the government, no matter who the government contracted with, same as the military is the government even though almost all of their facilities and equipment are bought from contractors and service members are paid volunteers. Now, the big departure, of course, is in Article 1, Section 8 of the Constitution that gives the Congress powers to impose other laws and regulation on the uniform personnel.

    Back to these mythical schools of yours that are built by contractors with out-of-classroom activities, ALL of that is controlled by the State, no matter where the State got the funds.

  33. Soldiers don’t have to buy their own weapons (books), training (tuition), and room & board.

    Ah, you are thinking of those mythical public universities that operate off of donations, tuition and fees with no tax dollars and no State control of anything. Can you identify one?

  34. Humm, so the only thing standing between me and concealed carry into Neyland Stadium for a football game is some Athletic Department rule with no force of law?

  35. Was Marx all that much of a killer revolutionary? You know, just because Lennin stole the man’s work to begin a big murder spree in the name of fairness and all does not exactly mean that Marx was all over that idea.

    Too lazy to find a citation, but Marx wrote on several occasions that violent revolution would be ‘indispensable’ in achieving the final stage of history or whatever. I think his reflections on the 1848 uprisings and the violence surrounding the 1871 Commune were largely positive. Obviously he didn’t kill anyone himself, but calling him a ‘man of peace’ seems unreasonable. Plus he was apparently a big time asshole.

  36. Please let?s not get started on all of these “men of peace” “revolutionaries”. A couple of weeks ago, Chavez and his goons inagurated a plaza and statue in honor of Manuel Marulanda (deceased FARC leader), as well as countless homages to Che Guevara.
    It makes me sick.

  37. Hogan,

    Obviously he didn’t kill anyone himself, but calling him a ‘man of peace’ seems unreasonable. Plus he was apparently a big time asshole.

    That is kinda what I was meaning. He was not an action guy, not a man of peace either, just another whiney writer. Certainly no Bill Ayres of 1970s vintage. More like those of the 1970s Horowitz/Hitchens variety who followed him.

    I am still trying to figure out this public university not controlled by the government nonsense a few comments up.

    rana,

    That remonds me, I have misplaced my Che t-shirt! Need to go back to rightwingstuff.com and order a new one.

  38. BTW, the Marulanda Plaza was inagurated in the barrio “23 de enero”, where just yesterday an opposition candidate and his supporters where gathered, when they were ambushed with gun fire by radical Chavista revolucionarios from 23 de enero… (you know, in keeping with the spirit of “man of peace”). Fortunately, no one was killed.

  39. “That remonds me, I have misplaced my Che t-shirt!”

    Heh. Guy, I can get you a red beret to go with your tshirt if you like.

  40. rana,

    Heh. Guy, I can get you a red beret to go with your tshirt if you like.

    Actually, the beret on Che has a dollar sign and the caption is something like “Viva la ignorant rich white kids”.

    The Army already wants me to wear a black beret when I am not around my USAR unit, but I still wear my patrol cap (until someone get really pissy about it).

  41. Guy, you’re confusing private organizations paying the university versus the army paying private contractors. The direction of money is different.

    UIUC only gets a fraction of its wealth from taxpayers, whereas 99% of the army budget comes from taxpayers.

    Take a look at the second pie chart:
    http://www.library.uiuc.edu/training/UIbudget2005_files/textmostly/slide12.html

    Less than a quarter of UIUC’s budget is based on state taxes (as of 2004).

    Also, note the difference between a statuatory corporation and a ministry.

  42. Also, I’m not *justifying* the existence of statuatory corporations, just saying why the first amendment doesn’t apply to them compared to other branches of the government. The first amendment only applies to the government restricting your speech, not to what’s agreed upon between private, voluntary contracts. The Graduate Students made a deal with the devil when they wanted the sweet employee bennies (this was a huge issue a few years ago). Now they have responsibilities to go along with those privileges.

  43. Some wrote to the ethics office to ask if the message was intended to apply to professors

    What, are professors somehow special, so they should be exempt from employee restrictions?

    Hmm. These campaign buttons are all partisan. Don’t you have any neutral ones? “May the better man win,” “Let’s have a good, clean election,” that sort of thing?

    The “Elect Ron Paul” buttons are effectively neutered. Oh, neutral. Nevermind. What about my “I’m the NRA and I VOTE” button?

    The university system’s ethics office

    Ethics are how you act when no one’s watching. If you need an ethics office, it’s a sign that your employees don’t have any.

    telling them that they could not wear political buttons on campus or feature bumper stickers on cars parked in campus lots

    Universities that restrict free speech are like shooting ranges that ban firearms.

  44. Well I might vote for a samoyed but I wouldn’t take advice from one.

  45. My beagle always votes Democrat. Always.

    PS: My beagle died in 1983.

  46. Universities that restrict free speech are like shooting ranges that ban firearms.

    We had a couple of those in DC!

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