Free Speech Under Attack at UIUC

please forward widely... FREE SPEECH UNDER ATTACK AT UIUC RSO threatened by university library staff for distributing anti-war material (see details below) WHAT CAN YOU DO? -We need your support in order to help expand the amount of space available for registered student organizations (RSOs), campus unions, and Champaign-Urbana community members to table on campus. -We wish to see the upper level of the Undergraduate Library Atrium Plaza made available for tabling and distributing literature and information. -If you or your organization is interested in lending your support, please reply to Martin Smith at: Dear friends: I want to bring to your attention a serious problem at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and that is the issue of free speech and the management of dissent on campus. On December 8, our REGISTERED student organization (RSO), the International Socialist Organization, set up a table to pass out anti-war literature. In particular, we were organizing for a national mobilization against the war in Washington DC on January 27 (details here: Due to the frigid weather, including wind chill levels below zero, we moved inside the top level of the Undergrad Library atrium plaza. This area is ideal for student organizations, as it is a space that is not utilized, open, and heavily trafficked. The actual entrance to the library is downstairs, a location clearly demarcated with electronic sensors to monitor for books that are uncharged. Within 5 minutes of our setting up our small card table with signs that read "Bring the Troops Home Now" and "Money for Jobs and Education Not for War and Occupation," a library staff person came upstairs to inform us that we were violating university policy. At this point, our group made a decision to take a stand. We refused to leave. We were then informed that the campus security would be called on us for our "actions." When I made my case to the library staff member that we were not impeding access to the library entrance which is downstairs, I was simply informed--"CAMPUS POLICY." When I asked why Expresso Royale, a coffee cart, was able to operate a booth outside the library and profit off of students and yet we were unable to pass out anti-war literature, I was told again--"CAMPUS POLICY." When I reminded the library staff person that I had previously written letters to both the RSO, Library, and University Reservations staff about changing their restrictive "free speech" policy and providing more areas for RSOs on campus to distribute literature during the winter months, having brought no positive change, I heard once again--"CAMPUS POLICY." CHANGE "CAMPUS POLICY!" As long as our government is engaged in an illegal and immoral war in which more than 655,000 Iraqis have died, according to the British medical journal the Lancet, than we have a responsibility to express our dissent in this country, including on the UIUC campus. We live during times that call for extreme actions due to the extreme crimes against humanity being waged against the Iraqi people. We are faced with a government that is continuing policies in our name that are flagrant violations of international law and human rights. If our organization was not in the correct "free speech zone" as we attempted to raise our voices against the war--than so be it. We believe that our group was targeted not just because we were in the incorrect "free speech area," but because the administrator did not like our message. WHAT ARE THE RULES? Our organization had a permit to table at the Student Union entrance on this cold and chilly day; however, we chose the Library Plaza entrance site instead for good reason. Currently, there is only ONE indoor area in which RSOs may table and distribute literature AND ONLY WITH A PERMIT. That location is the Student Union foyer. In this area, there are three booths and according to the staff of the RSO office, students must remain behind the booths at all times. This is problematic for several reasons. One, the Student Union entrance is an "echo chamber," and it is thus very difficult to have clear and thoughtful discussions with people whom we meet. Two, students should not be restricted behind the booths which are located nearly twenty feet from the main traffic in and out of the building. It is nearly impossible to actually engage in conversations and garner the attention of passersby behind these booths. Three, and most important, a school with a student population of over 40,000 should provide more than three booths and ONE INDOOR SPACE for "free speech" on its campus, particularly when winter temperatures are frequently below freezing. WHAT NEXT?--YOUR HELP IS NEEDED! We hope that the University staff will revisit their "campus policy." The university must take seriously its commitment to the free exchange and diversity of ideas. The actions by library staff to stifle free speech in an area that does not impede the business or functionings of the university should be viewed as chilling reminders of the times in which we live. Several weeks ago, a student was tasered by police at the UCLA library for not carrying his university ID (watch video footage here: The Patriot Act authorizes the government to spy on and track our library records. Moreover, the management of dissent on college campuses means that we now have only ONE indoor area of "free speech" on the entire University of Illinois campus in which RSOs can table and distribute literature--AND ONLY WITH A PERMIT. THIS IS AN OUTRAGE! If you are interested in requesting that the University allow more indoor "free speech zones" for RSOs and other non-registered clubs/groups as well, please contact Martin Smith at: Our voices of dissent must not be "managed" but should ring loud and clear against the injustices and inhumanity committed by our government. Until every troop returns from Iraq--RAISE YOUR VOICE IN DISSENT! In Solidarity, Martin Smith, PhD Candidate, History

Fears of Patriot Act infiltration may be seen in some libraries

This is much less scary than the despicable tasering incident at UCLA but nevertheless, I believe that the incident involving the extrajudicial prohibition of leafleting in one area of that library is because a few of the library employees are on the side of president Bush. But I think another reason exists for the unwritten banning of antiwar leafleting in that specific area. Well, thanks to the Patriot Act, librarians at some universities--as well as some of its employees--are looking out for even some legal student organizations who may mask as plainclothes police officials or even the FBI. The Patriot Act allows for FBI subpoenas of book records from libraries and anyone who tries to stop those subpoeanas are subject to immediate arrest. That is why library workers in universities (not all of them) are trying to crack down on political canvassing involving antiwar materials. That may not be the absolute answer for this injustice but this is rather close. The purpose of this unfair banning on leafleting of antiwar materials was for such libraries to avoid the severe scourge of Patriot-act-related infiltration.

More Facts; Less Paranoid BS, Please

I am not going to defend the actions of whoever called the cops on the ISO. From what I've heard so far, it sounds like there was a bit of misinterpretation of University policy on both sides and certainly an overly hasty resort to the polcie to end the ISO's distribution of literature on the part of the library staff. In fact, University librarians are among those already pointing out that campus policy permits the distribution of literature at such a location, even if setting up a table to do so may not be. I can't speak for much beyond my personal experience, but librarians here at UIUC have been at the forefront of the efforts of library professional organizations challenging the Patriot Act. In my own research, which involves nuclear weapons, Cold War intelligence, and how fallout deconstructed the the public's perception that nukes provide security, the staff at the libray excells at searching out obscure and hard to find official documents for me to use. They facilitated the purchase of a declassified records collection that cost approximately $6,000, solely becuase I needed it for my project. And that was while I was still an undergraduate here. They also have helped me with printing off thousands of pages of these documents so that they are more readily usable in my research. This incident was unfortunate and needs remediation. But, in general, UIUC librarians are far more likely to resist the Patriot Act and its attempts to shut off the flow of vital information necessary in a democracy than take any action "to avoid the severe scourge of Patriot-act-related infiltration" -- whatever the hell that statement is supposed to mean. It's utterly ridiculous to claim that this incident had anything to do with the Patriot Act.

Issue of Privacy

Another thing librarians are interested in is protecting one's right to privacy within the library. To park a group of people inside the library's entrance that will try and talk to everyone who walks in the door may be seen by some patrons as an impediment to that right. Librarians are interested in ensuring access to information for everyone, and sometimes that might mean keeping the entrance free. While I agree that there should be more places on campus where you can pass out information and engage with students, I would never support it in the library's entrance.

Free speech zone

Indeed, what are the spaces outside the university sanctioned free speech zones? No speech? BD

FYI and Some Thoughts

From the Student Code on literature distribution: (1) Distribution of such materials inside University buildings, other than residence halls (see ยง 2-405), is permitted in common areas (e.g., foyers, vestibules, or hallways), provided that such distribution does not impede traffic flow or disrupt University business such as classes, laboratories, meetings, or office work. I certainly can't speak for exactly what this reg means in general pactice, but I can imagine that it ultimately may have been the table that was the biggest part problem. The undergrad libray-- for those not familiar -- is underground. There are only two exits to the surface, other than the lengthy tunnel into the rat warren of the main library (which would be problematic in the case of an emergency.) There is a bit of space in the foyer, but not a lot, when you consider that it all might be needed in an emergency. Also, access to the elevator, at the opposite end of the foyer from the stairs down to the library, has to be maintained for those with access issues. The only place that might really be a little out of the way is right by the stairs at the northwest corner of the foyer, where the bannister overlooks the stairs down. However, even this location might not make the fire department happy, because it is still somewhat in the way of a direct path to the west doors. Of course, simply handing out leaflets shouldn't be a concern in the undergrad foyer, the way I understand the relevant section of the student code I included above (thanks to one of the UIUC librarians.) I can understand the privacy concerns raised by "anonymous" but I really don't think that's a credible issue here. In any case, a much better location for tabling is somewhere in the halls of the first floor of the main library, but even then, the locations with the best exposure to foot traffic through the library have relatively little space for tables. But I think some accomodation for additional tabling locations could be made there and certainly it's a good place to leaflet, too.


FWIW, I'm a part-time grad student in UIUC's Library and Information school, and librarians really do care about standing up for First Amendment rights. So I'm suspecting that the concerns may have been about location and traffic flow. (Also, most librarians I know don't exactly seem to be in favor of the war in Iraq.)

FYI -- UIUC Library Administrators

UIUC Library administrators are listed at this website: The Library administrator who would make a final decision on the questions of policy surrounding this incident would most likely be: Jeff Schrader Director of Library Facilities If you want to get a clear answer on when tabling by RSO's is welcome in the Undergrad Library atrium, contact Jeff. It may simply be a matter of informing Undergrad Library staff ahead of time. Just as a side comment, if y'all had come into the Main Library on a Sunday, when I'm the supervisor on duty of the whole building, all the solidarity I have with the ISO would have meant nothing. In fact, the CONTENT of your materials would have been irrelevant: NRA, ISO, AWARE, Orange and Blue Observer, UIUC Glee Club--all would get the same response. If a patron or library staffer had complained to me that your table wasn't supposed to be there, it would be my job to call *11, and then Library Security would have handled it from there. And I know from experience that Library security officers don't make decisions on matters of UIUC Campus Policy. They just want expedience: Complaint received. Resolve complaint. So, in summary, when dealing with a big beurocracy like the UIUC, I highly recommend going "through the proper channels." I know it sounds like boring advice, but it saves actual workers like us from having to do things we don't actually want to do, like call the cops on you.

Rude Idiot Tolerated by UIUC History Department

Let me get this straight. Martin Smith thinks it is reasonable, in an academic environment, to set up a political information booth *inside* the entrance of the main library *during the week before finals* and is somehow convinced his rights are being violated when he is told to leave. Oh, I'm sorry sir, I didn't realize you were with a REGISTERED student organization. That changes everything.

Yes, I'll Bet They Tolerate a Lot of "Rude Idiots"

If you're just one example of what you call "rude idiots" then, yes, Mr. Anonymous, I'll bet they do tolerate them in the History Dept, because we do get paid to teach undergrads, after all, and frequently we encounter people just like you, wondering why you're not getting an A, even though you were always an A student in high school and you've been getting away with such sloppy writing for years. For instance, you come off as all cocky and perfect, but let's see what might go into your grade, if this was your answer to a question about this incident on a final, based on what we have here. You wrote, variously, that: * Mr. Smith "set up a political information booth *inside* the entrance of the main library..." > If you read at the level of comprehension expected of most undergrads, you would have surely have realized by now that it was NOT the main library, but the undergrad library, that was at issue. * "*during the week before finals*" > That's irrelevant to your argument, i.e. a non-sequitur. Bad logic makes a poor argument and yields a low grade. Should new ideas be shut out, for some yet to be explained by you reason, during the week before finals? I expect my students to be learning right up to when they sit down to take the final -- and it should probably teach them a few things, too, even while it tests the knowledge they've been exposed to over the course of the semester. * Mr. Smith was "somehow convinced his rights are being violated" > As a matter of fact, it does look like Mr. Smith did indeed have some right to distribute literature where he was. There have been several things written here that indicate that this is the case, tabling aside. It's certainly the case that an academic environment should foster a free exchange of opinions. OK, I give you a C+ for that puerile little essay, only because I'm generally generous with grading my undergrads on the final after pushing them hard all semester to improve. You'll maybe complain that it's because I don't like your politics, but I've given lots of As to people whose polictics I didn't agree with. It's just that they actually could construct a reasonable argument from the evidence at hand, unlike you. But this isn't a test, it's a discussion on IMC about the news. You can disagree, without being disagreeable and juvenile. It sounds more to me like you're just trolling, so you may want to work on both your reading comprehension and your evidence before engaging in another argument here, if you don't want to be taken as such.

Violation of two policies

For those who are not aware of it, there are two policies or conduct codes that are a part of the incident being debated here. The first code of conduct or policy set is the university-wide code, part of which was stated in an earlier post. In addition to the code of conduct, there is also the fact that any individual or organization is required to request use of a space in advance and must sign a type of contract for the use of that space. Unless this printed form has been modified since I last filled on out, there is a statement that the requesting organization must follow all university policies and codes of conduct. Again, this form must be signed in order for the request/contract to be approved. The second policy which directly affects the situation last Friday is the: PATRON CONDUCT IN THE LIBRARY SYSTEM - BASIC LIBRARY POLICY GOVERNING PUBLIC USE which can be found at The text below is taken directly from this policy: "DISRUPTIVE BEHAVIOR Disruptive behavior is detrimental to the Library's mission and to staff and patron safety. Disruptive behavior includes, but is not limited to, the following: * Petitioning, conducting unauthorized surveys, or direct distribution of any non-library materials. Staff will take appropriate action to remedy disruptive behavior." This policy was set up to protect the mission of the library, to protect the rights of its patrons, to protect the safety of its patrons and staff. In the strictest interpretation of this part of the policy, a library staff person would be prohibited from passing out a printed flyer for an open house to fellow staff members. That is something that anyone working in the library must consider. So, by the second policy quoted above, leafletting of any kind, whether a table is set up or not, would be prohibited in any part of any UofI library. Another fact that many people seem to be ignoring is that of space, traffic and safety. The foyer in which the organization tried to set up is a small space. While it is not miniscule, it is also not at all roomy. On an average day, the foot traffic in this area is about 4,000 people (counted as 2,000 in, 2,000 out.) Most are moving at a rapid pace, hurrying between classes or from class to library. Many of the people are distracted with conversations on cell phones or music on iPods and such. Additionally, there are frequently groups of people gathering in the foyer, waiting for all members to be present for a class, group meeting, tour or other activity. So the area in which this organization tried to set up is not one that can or should be used for any activity other than traffic. It's just too small and too crowded during multiple peak times. While the number of people moving through the foyer makes it attractive for reaching out with a message, the safety issues make it a very, very bad idea. I honestly believe that the subject matter being distributed last Friday had absolutely no bearing on whether the organization should have been allowed to use the foyer space. If asked, an overwhelming majority of staff and librarians in the Undergraduate Library would sympathize with the cause and the statements being made. So this is a policy issue, and should be viewed as such. Does the denial of use of space for leafletting impinge on free speech? Perhaps it does. Does the distribution of materials in an small, crowded, heavily-trafficked area impinge on personal freedom and/or safety? Absolutely. I am a staff person at the university and have worked with members of registered organizations and all types of customers or patrons for more years than most students have been alive. It's my personal belief that the campus should provide more space for groups to set up tables for all kinds of activities. So I can say that I support the cause -- get more space for organizations to stand up. I can also say that I support university policies regarding the use of space. I've been on both sides of space use -- administering the use of space and the activities within, and requesting and using space for groups to which I've belonged. While I don't agree with every policy, I do understand that each one was created for good reason, and in the interest of being fair to all members of the campus community. That being said, the staff who confronted Mr. Smith and the organization could, perhaps, have stated things a little differently or handled the situation a bit differently. I cannot be certain, because I do not know exactly what was said; I only have Mr. Smith's sketchy account. Had I been the person who had to handle this situation, I would have also asked the organization to leave the area, and would have asked Library Security to assist if there was resistance. I would most likely have said something to the effect of this: "I'm sorry, but I have to ask you to remove your table, stop distributing yoru materials here, and move to a designated area. The campus and library policies prohibit this activity in this area." Then, instead of just standing on the "it's policy" platform, I would have offered to contact the appropriate office(s) to determine exactly which policies apply and why. I would also have encouraged the organization to take up the matter with the appropriate offices, if they did not agree with the policies. While I sympathize with Mr. Smith's cause, I feel that he is trying to champion it in one of the worst posssible ways. He should get the word out to the campus community that there is an insufficient amount of space on campus for organizations to set up tables and/or leaflet. He should petition for more space. And he should do so through appropriate venues. To champion his cause by flooding the campus staff, faculty and students with an email is not a good way to promote his cause. To portray library personnel as dictatorial drones who blindly stand on the "it's policy" platform and who wish to quash freedom of speech is wrong -- very wrong. I've found library personnel, whether staff or librarians, to be among the most open mind, service-minded and helpful staff on the entire campus. "Service first" is part of the mindset in the Undergraduate Library. So, please focus on Mr. Smith's call to action to get more space on campus for organizations (of *any* type) to set up tables and distribute literature. And please leave the contents of that literature out of the equation. Also, please remember that the mission of the library is to serve its patrons -- with respect to their privacy, access to the library and personal safety (which includes being able to move through the foyer without being stopped by anyone). Thank you.

martin, take a chill pill

maybe you need a hug

Welcome to the University Bureaucracy

As some of the above posts reveal, this university is a very rule-ridden and bureaucratic entity -- this is one of the fundamental characteristics of large organizations. The librarians, in this case, are merely cogs within the academic system, acting exactly like they're supposed to. This is another example of the "managerial-control society" that currently dominates a large segment of modern culture. These kinds of organizations -- and the people who manage them -- have never been very good guardians of human rights, including free speech. Instead, they are more likely to trample such rights, if they even bother to recognize them. There is nothing more horrifying to such organizations and their managers than human behavior that is spontaneous and unpredictable -- especially if its carries any taint of social controversy, passion, and zeal. The rigid institutional response is always the same -- call the cops and lock'em up if they fail to disband and disperse. Afterwards, cite rules and create rationalizations to justify such repressive behavior, and make vague promises about rectifying the grievance in some institutionally-controlled manner. jh

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