Via Bitch PhD and Inside Higher Ed comes word of new directives on political speech sent out by the ethics office of the University of Illinois system to all university employees.

According to the directives, university employees are not permitted to engage in the following activities “while working, when on University property, while using University resources … or when acting as a representative of the University”:

  • Preparing for or participating in any rally or event related to a specific political candidate, party, or referendum – this includes preparation and circulation of campaign materials, petitions, or literature
  • Soliciting contributions or votes on behalf of a particular political party or candidate
  • Assisting at the polls on behalf of any political party, candidate, or organization
  • Surveying or conducting an opinion poll related to anticipating an election outcome, or participating in a recount challenge related to an electionoutcome
  • Running for political office
The message goes on to say that wearing pins or t-shirts that support specific candidates or parties, “distributing, producing, or posting flyers or other campaign literature on campus,” conducting voter registration work that is identified with a particular candidate, displaying partisan bumper sticker’s on one’s car, and attending on-campus political rallies, even on one’s own time, are all prohibited activities.

Discussion of these regulations has so far focused on their effect on faculty free speech, but they are explicitly identified as applying to all university employees, including professional and non-professional staff. On their face, the rules would appear to apply to student employees of the university as well — did the university really mean to suggest that if you work as an RA or in a dining hall or staffing the check-out desk in the library a few hours a week, you’re not allowed to wear an Obama pin to class or attend a rally for a local candidate?

We’ll be following this story.