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ACLU goes to bat for critics of Illiniwek

URBANA--The American Civil Liberties Union on Thursday asked a judge to prevent University of Illinois administrators from taking any action against faculty or students who talk to athletic recruits about the ongoing controversy surrounding the school's American Indian mascot, Chief Illiniwek.
ACLU goes to bat for critics of Illiniwek

March 23, 2001
BY JOHN KELLY

URBANA--The American Civil Liberties Union on Thursday asked a judge to prevent University of Illinois administrators from taking any action against faculty or students who talk to athletic recruits about the ongoing controversy surrounding the school's American Indian mascot, Chief Illiniwek.

A lawsuit filed on behalf of seven faculty members and students alleges Chancellor Michael Aiken placed an unconstitutional limitation on their free speech rights when he sent a campuswide e-mail March 2 warning faculty, students and staff they could be violating NCAA and Big Ten Conference rules by contacting recruits.

"Faculty and students under our constitution are not required to pre-clear their comments and statements about important issues through the university before talking to prospective students," Harvey Grossman, legal director of the ACLU, told reporters.

U.S. District Judge Harold Baker was assigned the case Thursday but immediately withdrew because he is a U. of I. faculty member. A new judge was to be assigned today.

Aiken's message responded to threats by a group of professors to begin contacting prospective student-athletes to tell them about the controversy surrounding the mascot, which critics have spent a decade decrying as racist and degrading.

Some of the most vocal critics, including graduate student Cyd Crue and professors Stephen Kaufman and Brenda Farnell, are among the seven plaintiffs.

"We do have the right to speak about the hostile environment on campus, and educate prospective students and let them make their own decisions," Crue said. "This e-mail from the chancellor is a threat."

The lawsuit asks a federal judge for a temporary restraining order preventing enforcement of the chancellor's e-mail warning, which said contacts with recruits had to be cleared through the athletic department to make sure they did not violate any NCAA or conference rules.

University spokeswoman Robin Kaler said the school would not comment on the lawsuit. Aiken, however, did comment on the matter just days ago--backing off somewhat from his earlier message but sticking by his statement that the university could not permit violations of NCAA rules.

"The university values and defends the principles of free speech and academic freedom for members of the university community," Aiken read from a statement at Monday's campus Senate meeting.

"However, we also are a member of the NCAA and are committed to controlling our intercollegiate athletics program in compliance with the rules and regulations of the NCAA. This means that we expect members of the University community to respect NCAA rules, and certainly not intentionally violate them."

Associated Press
 
 

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