Campus Free Speech

First Amendment Group Sues the University of Illinois Over Bias Reporting System, Restrictions on Political Speech

"An elaborate investigative and enforcement regime designed to restrain, deter, suppress, and punish speech."


Speech First, a legal organization that defends the First Amendment on college campuses, has filed suit against the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.

The group takes issue with three of the university's policies: its restrictions on political leaflets, its bias reporting system, and the no-contact orders it issues to students accused of bias.

The first of these is the most obviously suspect from a First Amendment perspective. Students who wish to post leaflets or materials about candidates "for non-campus elections" must first receive permission from the administration.

"The University has no compelling interest in imposing a prior restraint on this category of political speech nor would this prohibition be narrowly tailored to any such interest," the lawsuit says. "This rule chills protected speech and expression and forces students who do not wish to submit to this prior restraint to engage in self-censorship."

The lawsuit also argues that because the university defines "bias incidents" very broadly—as any action or expression motivated by hostility toward a protected group—its bias reporting system has the effect of chilling constitutionally protected speech. The no-contact directive empowers administrators to place limits on the rights of students involved in behavioral disputes; Speech First says this permits the university to punish students for mere expression. The lawsuit cites an example:

In November 2017, a graduate assistant, Tariq Khan, got in a shouting match with two students at an "anti-Trump" rally and subsequently broke one student's phone. Two days later, another student, Andrew Minik—who was not at the event—wrote an article about the incident for the online publication Campus Reform. The article shared a video of the incident and described what had occurred at the rally.

Shortly after the article was published, Khan sought a No Contact Directive against Minik. The University issued the directive—even though Minik was not present when the dispute occurred and merely wrote an article about the dispute for Campus Reform. The No Contact Directive against Minik stated: "The Office for Student Conflict Resolution has become aware of a problem involving you and another student….Therefore, I am directing you to have NO CONTACT with Tariq Kahn (oral or written, directly or through any third party) until further notice." The order warned that "[a]ny violation of this directive may result in charges before the appropriate Subcommittee on Student Conduct. Violations of no contact directives are taken very seriously and can have very significant consequences, including dismissal from the university."

Speech First previously sued the University of Michigan, which prompted administrators to revise the wording of an overly broad harassment policy that had stated "the most important indication of bias is your own feelings."

The University of Illinois did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

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  1. The University has no compelling interest in imposing a prior restraint on this category of political speech…

    Swaths of college students lying in the fetal position at the foot of community bulletin boards isn’t a valid university concern?

    1. This is all out of date, for a “compelling interest” is no longer required for restraining inappropriate forms of “speech,” unless the American Supreme Court has specifically ruled that the “speech” in question belongs to a “category” for which such an interest is required. There is not a single use of this “compelling interest” term, for example, in any of the multiple state and federal decisions handed down in our nation’s leading criminal “parody” case. See the documentation at:

  2. These places must have an “Office of Getting Around the First Amendment”.
    And the people working there should be fired; they’re horrible at it.

    1. To the extent that it is the norm at private institutions, public schools like UofI are just following the industry “best practices”.

      Where is starts is when public high schools and even elementary schools, who are legally obligated to enroll a child, condition that child’s attendance on their parents consenting to policies and procedures that contain blatant waivers of Constitutional rights.

      1. We had one of these. We lived on county land, but had city water. Connecting to water was contingent upon signing a pledge that if the city decided to annex us, we wouldn’t protest. My wife signed it (can’t live without water), but I thought about how much fun a 1A lawyer would have with such a blatant disregard for the constitution on the part of the city.

        1. It’s all very fine to have fun, but the fact is that we have plenty of ways of getting around the “first amendment” whenever we need to restrain, diminish, or suppress some form of “speech” that nobody wants, especially if it’s harmful to the reputation of a distinguished member of the academic community, whether here at NYU or at a less prominent institution of higher learning such as Columbia or Yale. See the documentation of America’s leading criminal “satire” case which I linked above.

    2. Actually they’ve been horribly good at getting around it; at least until someone fights back.

  3. In the future, having a college degree will limit your career.

  4. I will sue the University of Illinois for bias against freedom.

  5. I think it’s important for libertarians in an outreach role to point out that the University of Illinois at Urbana–Champaign is a public university. That fact is crucial to understanding why libertarians might oppose this policy at a public university, even while they also argue that restricting speech this way should be perfectly legal (if undesirable) at a private university or private company. And, yet, I don’t see the fact that UIUC is a public university mentioned anywhere in the article.

    Think it should be obvious to average people that the University of Illinois at Urbana–Champaign is a public university? I don’t see why. The University of Pennsylvania is a private university and so is the University of Southern California. If you’re unfamiliar with the university in questions, how are you supposed to know?

    The difference between libertarians and non-libertarians on this issue may be that we understand that government institutions have no business regulating speech but private institutions do and should enjoy more flexibility that way. In fact, this is one of the reasons average people might decide they prefer private institutions to government.

    Want to regulate speech? Want to attend a school where people have their speech regulated so they can’t say things that hurt the feelings of LGBTQI+, progressives, or any other favored group? You’ll find plenty of libertarians who fully support your freedom to be stupid that way within the context of a private institution. Hell, you’ll find libertarians who think people should be free to teach crazy things like creationism in public schools!

    You might expect a libertarian publication to make that point about the important difference between public and private schools as they related to free speech–or at least mention that the university in question is a public institution. But then this is Robby. He doesn’t think like other libertarians. He doesn’t even seem to think like a libertarian.

    1. “Hell, you’ll find libertarians who think people should be free to teach crazy things like creationism in public [private] schools!”

      —-Ken Shultz


    2. Now do social media platforms.

    3. While true that public vs private institution is a big deal to the legal analysis, I do not criticize the author much for leaving it out of this particular article. “University of [State Name]” is a public university in the overwhelming majority of cases. I haven’t checked all 50 but UP may be the sole exception to that rule.

      The average reader would not automatically assume that USC would be public because there is no independent political entity called “Southern California”.

      And by the way, verifying the public status of UIUC was a pretty trivial exercise.

      1. >>>political entity called “Southern California”.

        we knew it as University Second Choice

      2. University of San Diego is a private school. In fact, it’s Catholic. University of Miami, University of Chicago, MIT, Cal Tech, Boston College, Boston University, Colorado College, Connecticut College, Syracuse, NYU, . . .

        There are lots.

        Also, the fact that this is a public school is the reason why it’s unacceptable.

        “Congress shall make no law” is the driving concern. Isn’t protecting private parties from government intrusions on speech the whole point? If this were a private school, the case would have little merit beyond it’s entertainment value. If this were a private school–from a legal perspective, anyway–I’d be on the side of the progressives and their politically correct speech code.

        1. Ken, none of your counter-examples fit the “University of [State Name]” rule.

          Some of them fit a “University of [City Name]” rule. I will concede that there are a mix of public and private institutions matching that rule, though I will also note that a majority of the ones I checked are public. Nevertheless, “University of [City Name]” is a much weaker predictor.

          The others follow quite different naming rules. And in most of those, I would actually expect more private institutions.

          So again, yes, the fact that UIUC is public is important. Critical, even. But no, it wasn’t a horrible travesty by the author to assume that most readers would already know that.

          1. “Ken, none of your counter-examples fit the “University of [State Name]” rule.”

            I listed University of Colorado and University of Connecticut, and why shouldn’t New York University, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, or California Technical Institute count? Do people know that Virginia Military Institute is a private school? Shouldn’t that matter to a libertarian if you’re writing about speech codes?

            I think you’re missing the bigger picture. I have a working hypothesis: Robby didn’t mention that the school in question is public because that doesn’t matter to him. Libertarians may hold that whether speech codes at a school are constitutional depends on whether the school is public or private, but not every journalist who writes about libertarian issues is, in fact, a libertarian.

            Incidentally, not every journalist who writes about NASA is an astronaut and not every journalist who writes about Republicans is a Republican. Yes, for libertarians, these speech code questions ride on the difference between public and private spheres. If that critical question doesn’t really matter to a given journalist, it probably isn’t unreasonable to suspect that particular journalist is not an astronaut.

            1. P.S. Adding to the confusion, Georgia Institute of Technology, Virginia Tech, Rutgers, and William and Mary are all public universities. Am I really supposed to pretend there’s nothing odd about a libertarian not mentioning the most relevant factor when talking about any school’s speech codes? Occam’s razor: We didn’t hear about the public status of the school because the author didn’t think it mattered. Why didn’t the author think it mattered?

              Like I said, it’s a working hypothesis. More data will be forthcoming in the future. I sure hope I’m wrong. I’d hate to think people might come to believe that government interference is irrelevant to libertarians. Progressives don’t see the difference between public and private sphere’s at all–or at least they don’t respect it. That’s one of the reasons why progressives are America’s most horrible people.

              1. Even more confusingly than “Rutgers, the State University of New Jersey,” is Purdue University (a public Land Grant), which doesn’t even tell you WHERE it is.

                Except IUPUI and other satelite campuses…

                1. Purdue, which these days is looking like the best university in all of the Big Ten for standing up for free speech.

                  1. Ya, they had me worried a year or two ago…I don’t remember what was going on specifically, but there was some ridiculous SJW-ish garbage happening (I thing individual professors/departments were getting out of hand).

                    Mitch Daniels seems to have quashed it pretty effectively.

  6. prior restraint @ public university these censor-ous adminis should go work @Notre Dame. but Ken does it better. ^^^

  7. On it’s face, the “no contact” order seems pretty un-intrusive. It’s probably unlikely that Mr. Minik wants to get into a shouting match with Mr. Khan, such that due process would require the university to provide Mr. Minik a copy of the allegations against him and the right to respond.

    However, what we are really talking about here is leverage. By granting no contact order in this situation, the school had given Mr. Khan (who incidentally was apparently arrested for his anti-conservative belligerent activities at the rally and charged with assault) a tool that anyone (or at least members of the politically favored class) can use to chill their critics. The consequences for Mr. Minik are potentially quite severe and far reaching. He will need to disclose and explain the “disciplinary action” against him on every grad school / law school / employment / etc. application, and possibly be passed over as a result (we are in the age of digital “who cares about details, it’s true of false” computer logic).

    In this way, the no contact order is rife for abuse, in the same way that individuals in divorce proceedings have been known to use restraining orders to accomplish objectives with respect to child custody that they could not otherwise accomplish through direct legal means. When the authority deliberating on such requests shows that it lacks the fundamentally basic judgement to inquire into surrounding facts, such as: what was the contact in question… a reporter writing a news article and leaving a voicemail requesting a comment, or a reporter who breaks into your dorm to try to find “dirt” for a story. A complainant who has conducted themselves in a manner becoming a member of the society, or a complainant who had to be detained by law enforcement for exceeding the boundaries of civil interaction.

    The real crime here is that the panel that issued the order is probably still sitting in judgement at U of I. They should summarily be removed from any positions of authority and judgement, and further investigated for personal conflicts of interest with respect to the case, including their own anti-Trump sympathies.

    1. As a reporter (if he is), the no contact would prohibit him from doing an interview and potentially limit contact with other person’s of interest for follow up stories…

    2. As Marcus implies, had the no-contact order been limited to direct contact between the two parties, it probably would have been uncontroversial. Extending it to undefined “third parties” (which would include the school paper, any social media, etc) makes it an unconstitutional prior restraint.

      That’s over and above your legitimate concerns about abuse for leverage.

  8. “the most important indication of bias is your own feelings.”

    What we’re learning is that the Spicoli defense is legit and valid. “I don’t *feel* tardy!”

    Sadly one must resort to the multi-cultural oppression wheel to determine who wins when multiple feelings are hurt in the same arena.

    1. I’m fairly certain “I don’t feel tardy” was Van Halen.

  9. … subsequently broke one student’s phone…

    Do these people not have the slightest compassion! They should be breaking noses like we did in my day when somebody disagreed with us. Noses heal for free…

  10. It is so strange to watch a culture of free speech die.

    Strange because everyone hangs on to the idea that they’re STILL a culture of free speech even as they actively destroy it.

    Remember ‘I may not agree with what you say, but I’ll defend your right to say it.”?

    Well, it’s been replaced with ‘I may not agree with what you say, and if you’re in a place I have any control over, I’ll make sure you can’t say it–with physical force if need be.’

    The west is at the ‘Free Speech, but….’ stage.

    And we need to understand something.

    We’re it. There are NO free speech cultures that are not of the west.

    We need to get this under control–to make sure everyone understands that the US is entirely a free speech zone–unless clearly and openly stated prior to an individual having contact.

    Otherwise there will be blood.

    1. >>>The west is at the ‘Free Speech, but….’ stage.

      how is this fixed w/words when the opponent is afraid of the words?

      1. Beat the living shit out of someone who’s afraid of words and they’ll learn pretty damned quick that there are much worse things than words to be afraid of.

        1. I’m guessing they won’t recognize reality even when it punches them in the face.

    2. The animosity between the tribes and camps seems to be what it’s all about; the media does whatever it can to inflame this with pearl clutching and shame at every opportunity. When a person or group is convinced of it’s moral superiority, it is no great leap to concluding and behaving as though anyone who disagrees with you is therefore immoral and even dangerous, and simply cannot be tolerated under any circumstance. In this scheme words are literally Hitler.

      We’ve come a long way from The Enlightenment. Which of course was nothing but Western hegemony, right?

    3. “”Remember ‘I may not agree with what you say, but I’ll defend your right to say it.”?”‘

      I also remember, Sticks and stones may break my bones but words will never hurt me.

  11. “…its bias reporting system…”

    So who gets to determine what is “bias”?

    I doubt that calling people “Deplorables”, or calling the President any of various names I’ve see would qualify.

  12. The reason that more and more issues seem unresolveable isn’t that we are any less able to use logic and science to discern the truth, it’s more insidious.

    We have found a way to cheat arguments. We change definitions and with them, the very meaning of the issues. We end up arguing about different things making resolution impossible.

    Our definitions are the keepers of meaning, reason and our ability to describe reality, truth. They need to be protected from partisan tampering.

    Free speech is a right in all public places and in all places where the public are allowed to communicate.

    Here are two definitions of public.

    1. Of, concerning, or affecting the community or the people:
    2. Maintained for or used by the people or community:

  13. All three of these practices are coercive. Humans controlling humans. Universities are supposed to open student minds to outside ideas and new rationales for changing how they think and do. This university pays humans to approve or deny what other humans say or think. It violates the 1st Amendment which affirms a human right to think what you wish and day what you think. I’m not impressed with the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.

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