University of Illinois System Guiding Principles

December 8, 2017


As a great public university system, we are accountable to many different individuals and communities – on our campuses, throughout Illinois, and around the world. This accountability includes making clear where we stand on issues that affect our academic enterprise, our students, faculty and staff, and our campus culture. 

The sheer size and breadth of our activities as a system, as well as the distinctive identities of our three universities, may seem to limit success for such an endeavor. But there are core tenets that we do share that, in fact, unite us. These tenets need to be clearly articulated in a thoughtful, collaborative manner.

In July 2017, we convened more than 100 people, including trustees, students, faculty, staff, top leaders of our universities, and system officers for a day of discussion on three issues in particular: free speech on campus, globalization and immigration, and civic engagement. These are not the only important issues facing our system, but principled approaches to them are interrelated and undeniably essential to our operations and our future. Following substantive discussions, three working groups took what they learned from that day, and drafted broad-based guiding principles on the topics. Dozens more – faculty, students, trustees, and staff – reviewed these drafts and provided valuable input.

The principles are rooted in current practices and provide touchstones to guide our future, not detailed policies to address every possible scenario we might face. They also are living documents that will be adjusted as needed to accommodate change, or to incorporate new issues involving other core values that guide us.

We can be proud of what this inclusive process says about the strength and cohesiveness of the University of Illinois System. And we should be proud of what the results say about the seriousness with which we fulfill our responsibilities to our students, to our campus communities, and to the people we serve more broadly. 

While they reflect contemporary concerns, these principles are very much in keeping with the original – and fundamental – ideals of the land-grant institution: advancing society through education and knowledge and contributing to the public good.

Tim Killeen

Freedom of Speech on Campus

An unyielding allegiance to freedom of speech – even controversial, contentious, and unpopular speech – is indispensable to developing the analytical and communication skills of our students and empowering all members of our university communities to be active and informed citizens. We are committed to the open exchange of competing ideas, perspectives, and values – a founding principle that built our nation – and to making the U of I System’s own distinctive institutional voice part of these productive dialogues. At the same time, academic excellence and growth require an environment conducive to mutual respect among all individuals. 

  • 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.
  • We will create conditions for a safe and robust exchange of viewpoints. These include reasonable and legally permissible regulations of the time, place, and manner of expressive activities to ensure safety and orderly campus operations. 
    In all matters involving freedom of speech, the University of Illinois System will endeavor to maintain a high level of transparency. Active and informed citizenship begins with a shared understanding of the principles that underlie the ground rules for expressive activity. 
  • We welcome and encourage members to respond to speech with which they disagree by engaging in counter-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.

“Free speech” is “free” insofar as protected speech cannot be prohibited or punished. Yet it is not free in the sense that its utterance is always costless. 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. 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. 

Globalization and Immigration

We live in a world where it is possible to connect with virtually anyone, anywhere, at any time. But while information has become essentially borderless, the free movement of people and ideas is never guaranteed. As an institution with a long history of global engagement, we know this freedom demands continual, concerted effort and advocacy. We embrace our role as educators who promote the value of global encounter and exchange – 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. 
  • We recognize that in an age of interdependence, addressing complex social problems requires the array of cultural and international perspectives that is only possible through unfettered collaboration and cooperation.
  • We prize traditions of internationalism. The global competence and competitiveness of our students depend on experiences that connect them to different people, ideas, and cultures. 

We are grateful to the international researchers, teachers, students, institutions, and communities that have helped make the U of I System a leader in discovery and innovation. Formal and informal engagement with the broader world – in traditional or virtual classrooms, in labs and performance spaces, in fieldwork, in clinics, in residence halls, even in a line for coffee – brings energy, distinction, and a sense of common purpose to all the work we do. 

Civic Engagement

The University of Illinois System has a rich legacy of civic engagement. Our discoveries, problem solving, and creativity have driven change and progress. Our faculty and students have played formative roles in policy-making and nongovernmental organizations at home and abroad. 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 healthcare — require a new level of commitment. It’s our responsibility, as The Public’s University, to improve quality of life by eliminating barriers to full participation, addressing problems systemically, and finding new avenues for relevance.

  • We must always strive to be valued local partners, learning from and collaborating with the communities that are home to our universities and programs.
  • Every member of our system, regardless of identity, background, ability, or institutional position, can engage meaningfully in university and public life and contribute to the growth and success of others. Our history proves that access and inclusion always yield new sources of innovation, resilience, and strength. 
  • We owe our students opportunities for substantive civic engagement so that they graduate not only prepared for personal success but also knowing what is expected of them as productive global citizens. 

Our strengths as a comprehensive system — our excellence in interdisciplinary scholarship, the diversity of our university communities, and much more — provide us with the means and motivation to make a difference at every level of society. Just as our faculty and staff bridge spaces between disciplines to produce scholarship with societal value, we aim to produce graduates with the skills, values, and experiences to be truly engaged in their communities.