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MADELEINE BRAND, host:

Express yourself on the blog, yes, but maybe not so at the University of Illinois. It recently told employees they could not wear political buttons or attend rallies, that that would go against their ethics policy, and the decision applies to employees at all three of the university's campuses. Well, that leaves Professor Lennard Davies wondering about the First Amendment.

Dr.. LENNARD DAVIES (English, University of Illinois): The University of Illinois, where I work, has told its employees that election buttons on their lapels or bumper stickers visible in university parking lots are forbidden. Basically, professors are not allowed to express their political opinions on campus. Yet, there was a time in the 1960s when every self respecting professor's office door was plastered with political slogans or cartoons.

Now, we're in an era in which having an opinion in the university has become grounds for dismissal, a political misuse of taxpayer's money. That ruling might be appropriate for state employees who work at the DMV, but isn't there a difference when it comes to professors? After all, we're paid to profess. It's our job to have opinions and to teach students the values and beliefs based on a history of rigorous thinking.

The danger of the Illinois ruling isn't so much that you have to peel off your McCain bumper sticker, it's the chilling effect in the classrooms and corridors. So what should I do now if I'm teaching a class about Oliver Stone's new movie "Bush" or Michael Moore's "Sicko?" Do I have to duct tape my mouth if the discussion veers toward the current election and healthcare? Or what to do in a class on Macbeth if students want to discuss the abusive power by a national leader?

The greatest minds of the past taught courses. They didn't muzzle themselves. And the great thing about the university is that, in some other classroom, a diametrically opposite opinion can be espoused. Students listen, handle the discrepancies, and make up their own minds. If the state wants professors to play dumb about their political opinions, then it shouldn't be surprised if education is what ends up getting dumbed down.

BRAND: Lennard Davies is an English professor at the University of Illinois at Chicago. NPR's Day to Day continues.

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