URBANA — A proposed policy governing protests and demonstrations on the University of Illinois campus has generated a stir among some members of the student body. The draft of “Expressive Activities on Campus,” a potential addition in the school’s administrative manual, prompted a pointed address from the university’s chancellor and provost after it drew nearly
URBANA — A proposed policy governing protests and demonstrations on the University of Illinois campus has generated a stir among some members of the student body.
The draft of “Expressive Activities on Campus,” a potential addition in the school’s administrative manual, prompted a pointed address from the university’s chancellor and provost after it drew nearly 250 requests for public comment and online criticism from Illinois Student Government representatives.
After a blistering student response and a meeting with student government, the period for public comment was extended from Monday to Nov. 12.
“Because we received a lot of input on this important issue, we are taking additional time to solicit and review feedback and to consider revisions as appropriate,” UI spokesperson Robin Kaler wrote in an email to The News-Gazette.
The university said there’s very little new in the policy and that it was meant to synthesize the “scattered” rules the university had around protests on UI property.
“The intent of the policy was not to fundamentally change expressive activity on campus,” Kaler said. “It was to consolidate information from various existing policies and clarify the language that sometimes confused people.”
One change the new policy would introduce, if adopted: The university can set some restrictions on the area around Alma Mater, restrictions which would have to be approved and published by the Office of the Chancellor.
“The university would reserve the area near Alma Mater for a small period of time around Welcome Week and Commencement Weekend, so demonstrations and protests would need to be organized in other locations during that reservation period,” Kaler said.
This detail caught the attention of leaders of campus activist groups, like Students with Environmental Concerns’ Alec van Patten, who helps organize his group’s “Climate Strike” in the first few weeks of the year.
Since students march along the Quad, make noise and stop at the Alma Mater, “I wondered if everything we did at the strike could potentially not be allowed,” van Patten said.
He’s never heard of any SECS member being disciplined by the university for protest activities.
Illinois Student Government wants the university to “start from scratch” on its rules around protest, its president said.
“These policies strip protesters of all the forms of nonviolent methods to get their point across that make protest worthwhile,” said senior Ari Kelo, ISG speaker for the Senate.
The policy that demonstrator noise cannot “materially and substantially disrupt, impair or interfere with teaching, study, research or administration” of the university has drawn particular criticism, along with rules against obstructing students and teachers from entering and exiting university buildings, which the Graduate Employees Organization did during a strike in 2018.
Noise concernsWhen policy came to Kelo’s attention, the UI senior sent the draft to other student government leaders.
Kelo also posted an Instagram infographic on the policy, geared for UI students, asking them to fill out the feedback form against the policy and “spam” the voicemail box of the Vice Chancellor of Administration and Operations Mike DeLorenzo.
And the student response was “quick and robust,” said ISG President Enoma Egiebor, a UI junior. The post garnered over 1,000 likes on Instagram, and people were resharing it so quickly, Kelo said, that Instagram began “glitching out” whenever the senior checked out the interactions.
“If (when!) this policy is passed, the ability to protest on campus will be severely compromised,” one of Kelo’s slides said.
“I want them to get rid of this policy. It’s distracting from so much, it’s distracting us from other ISG work,” Egiebor said. “This policy is all students are talking about.”
According to university rules, demonstrators cannot use “amplified sound” in a protest unless a reservation is approved by the university past 5 p.m. or on weekends, or if the gathering is part of certain, university-approved special events.
“At a school this size, protests can be quite big, so how can you have a speech at a protest without having a loudspeaker?” Egiebor said. “I’ve been here for years; I’ve never been able to hear a protest during class that’s all the way at Alma.”
Noise related to university operations, like sports, music events and construction and operations, aren’t included in the restrictions.
“It says we have to ‘moderate noise,’ so I think it gives too much interpretation to be condemned,” Egiebor said.
UI officials respondProvost Andreas Cangellaris and Chancellor Robert Jones addressed the policy in the most recent Senate Executive Committee meeting on Monday.
Cangellaris pointed to a post on the unofficial UI Reddit page: “Some of the concerns that were expressed were prompted by a Reddit post that misrepresented or perhaps presented confusing information about this draft policy,” he said, referring to a post made on Oct. 5.
“I think part of the concern that I’ve heard is that this (policy) is supposed to limit free expression in some way, and in fact it’s just the opposite,” Jones said during the meeting. “That’s antithetical to the whole purpose of this, to make sure free expression can occur in a very safe environment that aligns with university values around free speech.
“It aligns these policies so that everybody will have firsthand knowledge and understanding of the policies, rather than having to wade through and try to find the information you’re looking for under the old arrangement.”
ISG is hoping to assemble a team of law students to analyze the policy and “see if there’s any First Amendment issues,” Kelo said.
Prior to being submitted for feedback, the drafted policy went through the Senate Executive Committee, General University Policy, University Student Life, Academic Freedom and Tenure and Conference on Conduct Governance, and a “few minor revisions” were made in response to the comments.
“The proposed policy creates a process that allows an individual to work with the chancellor’s office to resolve concerns if they believe their freedom to engage in expressive activity has been infringed in violation of the proposed policy,” Kaler said.