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In a new statement of principles, the University of Illinois pledges an "unyielding allegiance to freedom of speech — even controversial, contentious and unpopular speech."

It also encourages members of the campus community to counter speech they don't like with speech of their own.

"But we will not condone shouting down or physically obstructing or threatening a speaker or the speaker's audience. Such activities are antithetical to the primary value on which freedom of speech rests: a commitment to the power of ideas rather than the use of force to influence the way people think and act," it says.

The free-speech coda was put out Friday, along with two other statements on civic engagement and globalization/immigration. They were developed after a daylong discussion in July with more than 100 trustees, students, faculty and administrators. UI President Tim Killeen asked faculty leaders and others to provide input on the drafts that emerged.

The issue has been a thorny one for campuses like Cal-Berkeley, where talks by provocative conservative speakers were canceled or sparked violence from protesters.

At the UI, a 2016 talk by Gov. Bruce Rauner was disrupted by protesters, though he eventually was able to finish his speech. And an appearance by an unofficial "Chief Illiniwek" in this fall's UI homecoming parade was temporarily halted by protesters.

Killeen said the new statement doesn't change the university's policies but clarifies where it stands "in our own language and our own voice." It's not meant to be a detailed policy document but a guide to preparations and enforcement, he said.

Asked how the UI would respond when speakers are threatened or shouted down, Killeen said it would depend on individual circumstances.

"Within the law, we're supporting the right to be heard as well as the right to speak. How much shouting down and how much obstructive behavior is obviously an issue of judgment and based on the context," he said, adding that he would rely on the "experts" — UI police, student affairs staff and others.

"The so-called 'heckler's veto,' we're not going to condone on campus, no matter how egregious some of the speech might be felt by the listening community," Killeen said.

Killeen, who has met with the chancellors, police chiefs and others on the issue, said the UI would apply "common sense."

"We do expect there will be events in the future that will test some limits. We're going to have to exercise judgments, and the appropriate authority in each case will be as well-prepared as we can make them," he said.

He said the homecoming parade was "one of those situations that I think need care and attention. I think the police were present, and they reacted appropriately."

'Loyalty to free speech'

The statement said free speech is indispensable to developing students' analytical and communication skills and helping all members of the community be informed citizens.

"At the same time, academic excellence and growth require an environment conducive to mutual respect among all individuals," it says.

"We have a duty to vigorously and even-handedly protect community members against conduct that falls outside the First Amendment — including true threats, pervasive harassment, incitement to imminent lawless action, and libel — regardless of whether that illegal conduct happens to be undertaken for expressive purposes," it says.

The UI pledged to create an environment for a "safe and robust exchange of viewpoints," which could include legal restrictions on the time, place and manner of events "to ensure safety and orderly campus operations."

"Even expression that is protected under the First Amendment can sometimes cause ill will and harm within an organization as large and diverse as ours. That is a price to be paid for a steadfast loyalty to free speech," the statement says. "We will strive to inform and educate our campus communities about the costs of speech — costs to audiences and also to speakers — so that individuals and organizations within the U of I System can responsibly decide for themselves the ways in which they choose to make use of their expressive liberties."

Spanning the globe

Regarding globalization, the statement embraces the UI's role in promoting international student and scholar exchanges — "not just for the sake of the academic enterprise, but for the future of our local and regional communities as well."

"Our commitment to continued world-class excellence in teaching, learning, research and public engagement means we must remain open to the most thoughtful and creative minds, regardless of country of origin or ideology," it says.

International researchers, teachers and students have helped make the UI a leader in research and innovation, it says.

"The global competence and competitiveness of our students depend on experiences that connect them to different people, ideas and cultures," it adds.

The statement doesn't address specific immigration restrictions proposed by the Trump administration. Killeen said the UI will continue to advocate for specific legislative remedies to serve its international community, but "we wanted this to be a document that would be at a higher level."

The third statement calls for a new commitment to civic engagement, from the local to the global level, noting the UI's long history of involvement in addressing problems and driving progress.

"We've fueled social mobility and produced generations of leaders. But the challenges facing civic engagement in the 21st century — which encompass everything from the algorithms we employ to the ever-widening disparities in income, education and health care — require a new level of commitment," it said.


Julie Wurth is a reporter covering the University of Illinois at The News-Gazette. Her email is, and you can follow her on Twitter (@jawurth).