For its demand for "civility," an Illinois university is being
awarded "Speech Code of the Month" by a nonprofit educational
Each month, the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education
(FIRE) features a college or university with a particularly
egregious speech code as its Speech Code of the Month -- a feature
that serves both to educate the public about the broader problem of
speech codes on campus and to use public pressure to encourage
particular institutions to abandon repressive policies.
The "To Be an Illinois State University Student" part of
Illinois State University's student conduct policy [pdf] has received
recognition this month, as it requires "civility" from students as
a "non-negotiable value."
"When individual behavior conflicts with the values of the
university, the individual must choose whether to adapt his or her
behavior to meet the needs of the university or to leave the
university," the policy reads. So if officials deem someone is not
meeting that standard, he or she will be asked to leave.
But Robert Shibley of FIRE, a group devoted to free speech,
individual liberty, religious freedom and the rights of conscience,
says this language is constitutionally impermissible.
"You're allowed to have values that conflict with the
university's values," Shibley asserts. "Simply having those values
at a public university doesn't mean that that university can tell
you that you have to leave. Public universities are arms of the
government, and they're just as bound by the Constitution as the
rest of the government would be."
While he agrees that civility is important in order to get along
with others, the FIRE spokesman contends it needs to be subordinate
to another values.
"Civility is an important value if you want to get along in
society, but in a free society, it can't be the paramount value,"
he contends. "Free expression needs to be more important than
civility, because sometimes things are important enough that not
everybody can afford to be civil."
So far, the university has not responded to FIRE's letter of