Thursday, September 25, 2008


Bumper Stickers? Really?

Some issues are difficult. They feature the conflict of valid goods, a shortage of critical resources, or clashes of identity or behaviors so central to one's personhood that rational conversation becomes nearly impossible.

Other issues, by contrast, are so obvious that any sentient being should be able to dispose of them immediately. This is one of those.

According to IHE, the University of Illinois promulgated some ethics guidelines that, among other things, ban partisan bumper stickers on employees' cars. Non-partisan bumper stickers are fine. So “Just Do Me” is recognized as free speech, but “Obama '08” is over the line.*

Alrighty then.

The theory of constitutional interpretation underlying this could be described as 'obscure.' Even Justice Scalia has argued that political speech is entitled to the highest level of First Amendment protection. If we assume that employees pay for their own cars, and drive them both on campus and off, then I'd be at a loss to explain why a public employer should have the authority to monitor employees' bumpers for political content, and not for any other kind.

(It doesn't take much to establish a really slippery slope from there. If my car somehow represents the college, and therefore must be neutral wherever it goes, then one could easily argue that my front yard represents the college, too. After all, my neighbors know where I work. No yard signs for me! And what if a neighbor sees me going to vote? Best not to do that, either.)

The article quotes a spokesman for the university saying of the bumper sticker ban that “officially, it does apply.” As a card-carrying bureaucrat, I can attest that the word “officially” speaks volumes. Simply put, that's the standard signal for “even I don't really believe this, but I'm obligated to say it.” Officially, jaywalking is illegal. Officially, employees aren't supposed to take or make personal calls while at work. Officially, students are required to attend every meeting of every class.

The ethics regulations also go into less obvious areas, like wearing campaign buttons in class. I don't think I've ever seen a professor wear a campaign button in class, even going back to my own student days, but it's at least theoretically possible. My sense is that it would be bad practice, since it would only serve to distract the students from the task at hand, but I hardly see it rising to the level of actionable misconduct. And faculty office doors – also addressed in the policy – are famously rich with all manner of cartoons, stickers, opinions, and jokes, as well they should be. I wouldn't object to a policy saying that anyone who affixes stickers to their door is responsible for removing them when they move out, but that's about cleanliness, rather than content.


If the America in which I believe has any reality, this policy will be relegated to the dustbin of history posthaste. You don't give up your freedom of speech when you work for a public university. I know we've lost our bearings over the last several years, but honestly.

* There's also the commonly-exploited distinction between 'partisan' and 'political.' Technically, both the NRA and are 'nonpartisan,' since neither is officially a part of a political party, but they aren't fooling anybody, and aren't particularly trying. Perversely enough, most negative messages are non-partisan, since they rely on attacking rather than endorsing. “Vote Obama” is partisan; “Stop McCain” isn't, since one could presumably stop McCain by organizing a write-in campaign for, say, Gumby. Expunging positive messages, while allowing negative ones to flourish, strikes me as unhelpful.

I think profs doors are the most reasonable place to ban bumper stickers -- the door itself is college property, no? It is arguable that the person themselves is or isn't (when they are working), and the car is the least applicable place.

Personally, I used to be a politically moderate adjunct whose (shared) office was next to a very radical tenured prof. "F-Bush" was the least objectionable of the stickers on his door. The fact that it was a state college made me wonder what the regulations were - because if there were ANY regulations, he was violating them.
I'm inclined to agree with Inside the Philosophy Factory; I have sometimes been annoyed with the very highly charged decorations on profs' doors. It's rubbing your politics in the nose of a student during office hours, or even anyone who needs to walk down that particular hall. It is just not professional, IMO.

I figure that the farther removed a display surface is from your official duties, the more latitude you should have. Campaign materials in the classroom? Absolutely not. On the office door? I think it's a very bad idea. A button on the prof's outdoor coat? No big deal. A bumper sticker on the car? Go for it. It's not like a student NEEDS to walk through the faculty parking lot, after all.
This isn't America; this is Illinois. This has jack shit to do with professors and free speech and everything to do with our sound-bite governor promulgating ineffective ethics reform in an effort to keep from getting indicted -- which may be happening as soon as next week. ( Which shocks no one and I believe makes us 5 for 9 on gubernatorial indictments in the last 50 years.

This is part of the same package that requires EVERY STATE EMPLOYEE who is not elected to take an ethics quiz, from IDOT sign holders to tenured professors at the U of I. This quiz, which the governor doesn't have to take, has a lot of questions about selling contracts to friends and relatives (governor's problem) and campaigning on taxpayer time (elected official problem). It's window-dressing ethics reform that puts an onus on state employees who don't have the scope in their jobs to commit political ethics violations, while not even making the folks with the ethics problems take the quiz.

This ethics package has been in the news before for hitting professors in spectacularly moronic ways. Because everyone in the state is required to take the same test (from sign holders to tenured profs), the state has a minimum time they feel is needed on the (computer-based) quiz, which is based on the AVERAGE time of all employees taking the quiz.

Several SIU professors who took the test TOO QUICKLY were penalized for having above-average reading speed, accused by the state of cheating, and presented with a demand to sign a form stating they committed an ethics violation.

HR tells us to answer the first question, let it sit there open while you do something else, and finish up 15 minutes later. Since the state refuses to recognize a problem with the test.

So while profs are being (clearly unconstitutionally) barred from putting bumper stickers on their cars, the gov is still selling contracts to his relatives while doing such a spectacularly inept job of managing the state that he can't get a budget passed through a statehouse with clear majorities of his own party in both houses. (And such an inept job that we're having to close down Lincoln sites (!!!!) part of the week because we can't fund them!) And a relative of mine who worked for the state was required to campaign for certain pols to keep his job. That's still going on. But ethics reform addressing THOSE issues would inconvenience our elected officials and their cronies. So much easier to inconvenience the people you can fire for bitching about it.

Someone may sue on this bumper-sticker policy, and they'd probably win, but if they wait three weeks, Mike Madigan (speaker of the house, state Dem party chairman) will use it as yet another tire iron in his death cage match against the governor. And/or the governor will be indicted and we'll get a new ethics reform package from the next guy, which will probably be just as stupid and corrupt, but at least in new and interesting ways.
Dean Dad, a/k/a Master of the Messy Desk

Happy Milestone Birthday!
Some "context bracketing" observations:

1. Federal government employees (including the military) have lived and worked under similar (and more restrictive) rules for years; and the numerous legal challenges have all been upheld.

2. The slippery slope apparently runs in both directions . . .

3. And tangentially (conceptually awkward as well) while "keeping and bearing arms" is a constitutionally guaranteed right; and driving an automobile is a state-granted privilege; we have a situation where an employer can dictate the conditions under which you can exercise the right but cannot dictate the way you exercise the privilege?

4. We have no problem restricting the "free speech" of christian evangelists to a corner of the campus; but bridle at the thought of restricting the "free speech" or environmental evangelists in any way whatsoever . . .
Oooh, Dean Dad gets political! I like it!
Eyebrows McGee makes a GREAT point about the misplaced effort to infuse ethics, but what do you expect from that corrupt Republican Governor.

Oh wait..
Did these folks forget about a little old document called the Constitution?
"what do you expect from that corrupt Republican Governor. Oh wait.."

Don't blame me, I voted for Whitney. ;)
Dorm students at WayUpNorthCC are not supposed to display campaign literature in their dorm rooms, as, we are told, the dorm is everyone's domicile and so any campaign stuff would require an acceptance vote from all students living there. Our president just makes this stuff up to give my BP a little boost.
The military restrictions on campaign literature even extend to their cars and homes--- especially if they live on base.
Some people are busy creating value and serving their community.

Other people are busy taking value created by others, and dedicating their time to distributing value created by others to their friends.

Oddly enough, since actually creating value takes more time and effort than taking/redistributing value, when the playing field is "leveled" politically the advantage goes to those with a lot of time on their hands...

Marx- the hero of the working class who never worked a day in his life- figured this fundamental truth out a long time ago.

I think Marx put it best: "I tried working for a living once- I didn't like it much. This dialectic thing is working out so much better for me!"

Pretty much what Willy Sutton said, but in German . . .
According to the DoD document linked from the discussion are of the IHE article DD referenced, Confused professor is confused.

Specifically, item gives any member of the military on active duty rights that the University of Illinois wants to take away from its employees. Since Illinois has an ROTC program, one must assume that some of its faculty are active duty military officers yet also covered by the UIUC policy. Only some of the officers listed on the ROTC web site indicate that they are in the Guard or Reserve.

I seriously doubt that the Federal Voting Assistance Program would post a forged document purporting to be DoD Directive Number 1344.10 dated February 19 of this year. Perhaps YACP was familiar with the 2004 version of this directive, which was superceded for this election, possibly as a result of a change in the law cited in the document.

It is pretty outrageous for IUIC to forbid political speech by veterans of multiple tours of duty in Iraq.
This is unbelievable. One of the thing I loved about college was the political or quirky things on profs' doors. I love to read the bumper stickers all over the back faculty cars. If they are going to ban political bumper stickers than they have to ban all of them particularly religious ones. Unless the college is paying for the vehicle I don't undersand how they can dictate the decor.

This is timely for me since I just received a campus email reminding staff that politics are to remain outside of campus in light of the upcoming election. I wonder if universities hosting debates have the same policy. Does anyone else find the creation of debating politics as taboo a cultural issue? We are living in a democracy and some other cultures can discuss politics without bias.
"In keeping with the traditional concept that members on active duty should not engage in partisan political activity, and that members not on active duty should avoid inferences that their political activities imply or appear to imply official sponsorship, approval, or endorsement, the following policy shall apply . . . "

Among other things, member MAY Display a political bumper sticker on the member’s private vehicle.

You are correct; relaxed since 2004.

There is also an extensisive section that starts off with

"4.1.2. A member of the Armed Forces on active duty shall not:"

Note the use of the words "shall not." This section includes a whole bunch of stuff like

" Allow or cause to be published partisan political articles, letters, or endorsements signed or written by the member that solicits votes for or against a partisan political party, candidate, or cause. This is distinguished from a letter to the editor as permitted under the conditions noted in subparagraph Serve in any official capacity with or be listed as a sponsor of a partisan political club. Speak before a partisan political gathering, including any gathering that promotes a partisan political party, candidate, or cause. Participate in any radio, television, or other program or group discussion as an advocate for or against a partisan political party, candidate, or cause. Conduct a political opinion survey under the auspices of a partisan political club or group or distribute partisan political literature."


So tote up a point for you on the matter of bumper stickers.

My point about "a whole lot of more onerous restrictions" perhaps is eroded somewhat by the matter of allowing bumper stickers on privatedly owned vehicles.
I live in the DC area (inside the beltway yet) and my wife works for the feds as do many friends (civilian and military). They feel free to display bumper stickers of every political preference from Kucinich to Ron Paul (let alone Obama or McCain), put up lawn signs, wear campaign buttons, lobby their friends, and, of course, vote. They don't work in partisan campaigns but that's about it.
Here are some more of hgte "SHALL NOTS." Note that these are the regulations that apply to military members- and that have been relaxed about 4 years ago. I think I cut the duplicates from the previous post.

The point?

Well, it's the same point I tried to make earlier (but got lost in the attempt at "spin control" apparently): "Federal government employees (including the military) have lived and worked under similar (and more restrictive) rules for years; and the numerous legal challenges have all been upheld."

O.K., the Shall Nots:

>> begin quoted material << Participate in partisan political fundraising activities (except as permitted in subparagraph, rallies, conventions (including making speeches in the course thereof), management of campaigns, or debates, either on one’s own behalf or on that of another, without respect to uniform or inference or appearance of official sponsorship, approval, or endorsement. Participation includes more than mere attendance as a spectator. (See subparagraph Use official authority or influence to interfere with an election, affect the course or outcome of an election, solicit votes for a particular candidate or issue, or require or solicit political contributions from others.
. . . previously quaoted material deleted . . . Perform clerical or other duties for a partisan political committee or candidate during a campaign, on an election day, or after an election day during the process of closing out a campaign. Solicit or otherwise engage in fundraising activities in Federal offices or facilities, including military reservations, for any political cause or candidate. March or ride in a partisan political parade. Display a large political sign, banner, or poster (as distinguished from a bumper sticker) on a private vehicle. Display a partisan political sign, poster, banner, or similar device visible to the public at one’s residence on a military installation, even if that residence is part of a privatized housing development. Participate in any organized effort to provide voters with transportation to the polls if the effort is organized by or associated with a partisan political party, cause, or candidate. Sell tickets for or otherwise actively promote partisan political dinners and similar fundraising events. Attend partisan political events as an official representative of the Armed Forces, except as a member of a joint Armed Forces color guard at the opening ceremonies of the national conventions of the Republican, Democratic, or other political parties recognized by the Federal Elections Committee or as otherwise authorized by the Secretary concerned. Make a campaign contribution to, or receive or solicit (on one’s own behalf) a campaign contribution from, any other member of the Armed Forces on active duty. Any contributions not prohibited by this subparagraph remain subject to the gift provisions of sections 2635.301-2635.304 of title 5, Code of Federal Regulations (Reference (f)). See subparagraph for general prohibitions on partisan fundraising activity.
4.1.3. Commissioned officers shall not use contemptuous words as prohibited by section 888 of Reference (b) or participate in activities proscribed by DoD Directives 5200.2 and 1325.6 (References (g) and (h), respectively).
4.1.4. Subject to any other restrictions in law, a member of the Armed Forces not on active duty may take the actions or participate in the activities permitted in subparagraph 4.1.1., and may take the actions and participate in the activities prohibited in subparagraph 4.1.2, provided the member is not in uniform and does not otherwise act in a manner that could reasonably give rise to the inference or appearance of official sponsorship, approval, or endorsement.
4.1.5. Activities not expressly prohibited may be contrary to the spirit and intent of this Directive. Any activity that may be reasonably viewed as directly or indirectly associating the Department of Defense or the Department of Homeland Security (in the case of the Coast Guard) or any component of these Departments with a partisan political activity or is otherwise contrary to the spirit and intention of this Directive shall be avoided.

>> end quoted material <<

I wouold be entirely if ALL public employees-

-defined as ANYONE who takes money from others using the force of government-

-would be held to these entirely reasonable (and legal OBTW) standards.

Including any STUDENT currently sucking money out of the taxpayer through any kind of subsidy whatsoever . . .

I mean, think about it: how is it moral to take the labor of others with force in order to yield that labor without consent toward a partison political cause that the laborer does not support or agree with?
YACP, your point is? None of those rules forbid even an ACTIVE DUTY military officer from attending a speech on campus, yet UIUC forbids its ROTC faculty from doing that basic act of citizenship.

Or is your point that employees extort their pay from their employers rather than earn it? Or is it that every employee of every private contractor who gets paid to build, say, a highway paid for with public funds should be prohibited from having a campaign sign? Seems unconstitutional on the face of it and quite different from an Army officer soliciting campaign contributions from her subordinates.
I'm glad you agree that those restrictions are reasonable and should apply to anyone who "receives" money from the government; who (it must be noted) only gets the money in the first place through force of arms.

So any student receiving grant money (or subsidized student loans) should be prohibited from " Speak[ing] before a partisan political gathering, including any gathering that promotes a partisan political party, candidate, or cause."

Man, if only we actually enforced that one simple rule it would make the campus one hell of a lot more tolerant place . . .

Think of all the hate speech at Columbia University that would have been prevented! The Minutemen spokeperson may actually have been allowed to speak . . . the student newspaper at Dartmouth may actually have been allowed to be published . . .

I can only imagine how more tolerant and open minded Harvard (Berkely1?!) would be if we came anywhere close to enforcing that one . . .

Just think of how slippery the slope would be if we allowed the other side to speak without fear and with as loud a voice as the fascist, totalitarian left in this country.
There seem to be some clear lines in this discussion. It is wrong to use public money for partisan political purposes. If a professor works are a private university, then it should be up to that university to determine how partisan the professors may be. For public universities these seem to be good rules to follow.

If a professor, while teaching class, wears a campaign button or any way advocates for students to vote in a particular manner or give money or volunteer for a particular candidate, the professor should be fired.

If a professor places a partisan sticker or literature on public university property such as an office door, the professor should be fired.

If a professor receives money for driving his or her car for official university business and at the same time has a partisan bumper sticker, the professor should be fired.

There is a pretty bright line about using public funds for partisan purposes.
Anon 8:21

I look forward to seeing all those Obama-supporting Academics on the unemployment line.

Seriously though, I think your line is a bit tough. Now, if I professor advocates for a candidate, and then has their grading of students somehow biased by the students' political views, THEN they should be fired.

But then again, that probably already happens, but since we aren't allowed to actually talk about anything, we don't realize it.

Seriously, though. Why are we afraid of people supporting the candidates of their choice, discussing the POLICY issues and positions of those candidates, and letting actual LEARNING occur?

WHY are we afraid???
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