UIS Blocks UPI Leafleting!
On the weekend of May 1-4, 1997, the University of Illinois hosted a national conference in downtown Springfield: "The Links between Public Universities and State Capitals." Our UIS campus was a prime sponsor and organized the conference. Administrators and faculty members from across the country came to spend a few days at the Renaissance Hotel to discuss how universities and state governments might work together more closely.
The prospect of greater university-government cooperation struck some of us as a bit scary given the University of Illinois/Illinois State Legislature's 1995 conspiracy to destroy our faculty union. So we prepared a leaflet explaining the situation to distribute to conference attendees.
On Thursday evening, May 1, we handed out leaflets without incident to attendees going into the Old State Capitol for the opening reception (where UI President James Stukel gave the opening remarks). Many attendees from across the country stopped to find out more and then wished us luck. Some took leaflets inside to the reception and even volunteered to ask Stukel to defend his efforts to gut our union.
For some reason, the administrators inside must have found this irritating.
The next evening, four of us went to the Renaissance Hotel to give out the same leaflet before an after-dinner talk to which the public had been invited. When the conference organizers saw we were there, they told us no one from the "public" could enter the dining room until 8:00, so we waited in the lobby.
At 8:00, the doors opened. We went in planning to hand our leaflets to conference participants sitting around their dinner tables during a lull. But we were prevented from doing so by university-paid hotel security guards who blocked our way. These big guys in suits politely but firmly stood with arms outstretched in front of the tables. They told us repeatedly and calmly "the public seats are over there," pointing to the back. When we tried to move past them, they moved over to make that impossible.
When we managed to drop leaflets on the closest tables and asked people to distribute them, the guards removed the leaflets from the tables! They even grabbed leaflets out of the hands of somewhat-mystified conference attendees who had tried to pick them up!
Rather than stand our ground and force the issue--demanding to know on what basis our own university could prevent nondisruptive distribution of information--we moved to the public seats.
And at the end of the talk, we leafleted without interference. We had more conversations with colleagues from around the country. They now know not only about union busting at UIS, but also about UIS's forcible interference with free speech and distribution of informational materials.
In this context, UIS's past efforts to restrict speech--on campus yet!--take on new significance.
Ironically, the after-dinner talk by Martin Marty, a University of Chicago theologian, was on the topic "Getting engaged civically and civilly." In his remarks, he urged public engagement in public problems and criticized "polite civility" that masks injustice.
Here in the Midwest, being impolite seems to be the worst sin. It's impolite to peaceably hand leaflets to people or to ask challenging questions of administrators and officials who do their dirty work in secret. But for some reason it's okay to kill a union and then pay people to prevent complaints.
Doesn't make sense to me. But then, I'm from Brooklyn.
May 7: I file a formal complaint with Chancellor Lynn about the university's interference with our leafleting.
May 12: Associate Chancellor David Everson announces that an "investigation" concluded that I was wrong and that "the conference organizers handled the situation in a sensitive and appropriate manner." His memo fails to indicate who did the investigating or whom the investigator interviewed. It also fails to provide any process for resolving complaints about administrative actions.
May 14: I formally ask the Campus Senate to take up this matter.
some political, most not
Page updated September 30, 2007