Beware the button police.

A story on the on-line Inside Higher Ed is a good example of the goofy world of bureaucratic thought. Sherman Dorn links to it as well. Dorn uses the issue to explore a philosophical debate involving Stanley Fish and Michael Berube about the issue of academic freedom. Dorn knows how to put the accents over each “e” in Berube. Not me. So imagine them there.

The story in Inside Higher Ed reports that faculty at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign have been told that they can’t park their car on campus with a bumper sticker for either Obama or McCain.

The university system’s ethics office sent a notice to all employees, including faculty members, telling them that they could not wear political buttons on campus or feature bumper stickers on cars parked in campus lots unless the messages on those buttons and stickers were strictly nonpartisan. In addition, professors were told that they could not attend political rallies on campuses if those rallies express support for a candidate or political party.

Teachers I know, not at a public university but at a public middle school, have been told that they cannot answer a student if the student asks who they are going to vote for.

Of course teachers should not be campaigning among their students for a candidate in school. But if a student asks a teacher what they think about any social issue, should the teacher remain mute? What about the war? What about school funding?

Trust me. The questions get asked and answered anyway. It doesn’t happen often at my kindergarten through fifth grade school. But the older kids are getting more interested in the election as we get closer to it. They mainly reflect their parent’s point of view. That is only natural.

But should I respond to the student’s interest by pretending that I am not interested? Should I say that my views are secret, implying that having views is somehow dangerous? How does that model social and community involvement and concern?

The bureaucrats never have to answer for the actual impact of their rules. How lucky.

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