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University of Illinois System Guiding Principles


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, our 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 we share that, in fact, unite us. These tenets need to be clearly articulated in a thoughtful, collaborative manner.

In July 2017, and again in July 2019, we convened more than 100 people, including trustees, students, faculty, staff, top leaders of our universities, and system officers for robust discussions on issues facing our system. Our approaches to these topics are interrelated and undeniably essential to our operations and our future. Following substantive discussions, working groups took what they learned from those conversations 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. 

Excellence with Integrity

Across the U of I System, we believe that the pursuit of excellence—in our research, in our teaching, in our outreach and engagement—is a challenging, relentless, multidimensional process. It has the potential to transform the lives of those that it touches. Moreover, we view integrity as intrinsic to excellence. Faculty members and students come to a particular university because they trust there is substance to its reputation. Employers hire our graduates because of confidence in what they know and assumptions of what they will be able to do.

Parents, governments, foundations, corporations, alumni, and friends partner with and invest in us because they value and want to be associated with excellence and have confidence in our integrity to deliver.

  • We will be intentional and deliberate in our actions to ensure integrity. Across our varied educational, research, and engagement missions, new projects will begin with considerations of ethics and values.
  • We will infuse integrity into our classrooms, laboratories, studios, and offices.
  • As with all great institutions, there will be instances when our values and integrity come under close scrutiny. How we respond to such incidents will determine who we are and what we stand for. In these times, we will be unwavering in our commitment to transparency and respect for all persons; we will hold ourselves and others accountable.
  • We will ensure that our infrastructure and organization promote both integrity and excellence. Our ethics and equity offices will be well-supported and staffed. We will foster ethics and values throughout our curriculum and in every experience. We will adopt codes and standards of behavior that promote these values and share them widely.

Just as we embrace a culture of innovation and a tolerance for risk-taking, so will we always strive to act morally and ethically—to do better and to learn more. In this way, we will ensure that our institution continues to thrive and hold true to its land-grant mission of promoting excellence with integrity for the next 150 years.

Fostering Healthy Relationships Across the Campuses

The University of Illinois System has the privilege and responsibility to cultivate the immense talents of diverse students, faculty, staff, and leaders. Healthy relationships—defined by mutual respect, trust, and an expectation of transparency and fair treatment—are the collective responsibility of all our members; no one can afford to be a bystander when it comes to ensuring full participation of everyone in every sphere of our campus communities. The U of I System and its three universities will make ongoing, intentional efforts to foster healthy relationships through educational programming, early intervention, incentive structures, rewards for positive contributions, and opportunities for productive engagement.

  • We will respond expeditiously to discrimination, harassment, sexual misconduct, and bullying with policies that are legally appropriate, fair, and widely understood.
  • When both parties agree and understand the full ramifications, we will look to the use of restorative processes to repair damaged relationships and support positive changes in behavior.
  • We will strive for healthy, productive working relationships that allow for disagreement while fostering cooperative problem solving among different stakeholders across the U of I System, including students, faculty, the senates and other units of shared governance, administrative leaders, and the Board of Trustees.
  • We are dedicated to protecting academic freedom and free speech. But we also recognize that some protected speech can undermine healthy relationships, harm other people, and lack bona fide academic purpose. We will model civil discourse and debate, and we will teach our communities how to address controversial topics in a manner that is both respectful and advances the values of our democracy.

Diversity of backgrounds, perspectives, and experiences enriches campus conversations in and out of the classroom, inspires our creative endeavors, and drives innovative solutions to the world’s problems. Our capacity to listen to and learn from each other is fundamental to our mission of excellence in teaching, research, and learning—and to the cause of the common good.

Financial and Environmental Sustainability

Financial sustainability is concerned with fiscal resilience and foresight, whereas environmental sustainability encompasses our buildings, our infrastructure, our land, our utilities, and our climate. But the two are interdependent, calling upon our ingenuity and commitment as stewards. It is our responsibility to go beyond short-term planning and decision making, ensuring that we manage the resources entrusted to us with a strong focus on future generations in mind.

  • We will be innovative, adaptable, inclusive and reliant on evidence in all decision making, assessing both the fiscal and the environmental implications and outcomes of what we do.
  • We will keep educational costs affordable and prepare our graduates for successful professional and career outcomes, so that our three universities are always competitive and viable choices for students and families in the state of Illinois.
  • We will strive to stay at the forefront of curricular innovation, seeking and developing the most effective platforms, degree programs, and experiential learning opportunities for our students, as well as relevant, life-long educational engagement for adult workers.
  • We will make the most of the U of I System’s wide-ranging and ever-evolving talents, encouraging collaborations among disciplines to produce not just breakthroughs, but sustainable environmental and economic improvements to the human condition.

Jane Addams wrote, “Nothing can be worse than the fear that one had given up too soon and left one unexpended effort which might have saved the world.” Our sustainability legacy will reflect the effort we put into it. By acting mindfully, we will leave our universities, our state, and our world better than we found it.