The state of Illinois has policies in place which prohibit the display of campaign propaganda on the Rock Valley College campus premises. This enforced policy can be seen by the lack of campaign signs around the campus and in employee offices, and with teachers not wearing propaganda in support of certain candidates.
There is only one place where this policy does not apply: personal vehicles.
However, on Monday, March 27, the Vice President of Human Resources Jessica Jones sent an email containing the following:
As we move closer to the April 4th election, I have been requested to remind employees that displaying campaign signs on campus for any candidate and/or any public proposition is a violation of RVC Board Policy 1:10.010 (Code of Ethics), Section 6A as it constitutes a prohibited political activity. Such displays may also violate Board Policy 2:10:100 (Solicitation) as it implies that the College supportsa candidate or public proposition.
Please review and comply with these policies.
Thank you for your cooperation.
The specific policies mentioned (and provided) above make up part of the framework of Illinois’ State Statutes, meaning that Rock Valley College is not the only institution of higher education affected. The reasoning behind the email would seem to coincide with the policies in place if employees and faculty were placing signs in their offices or classrooms. However, employees were not doing so.
“The email was sent to all employees because large signs were being displayed on different employee vehicles and it was brought to our attention that it was a violation of Board policy,” said Jones. “Having a bumper sticker is different than placing a giant campaign sign in the windshield of your car or on the back of your truck. The prohibition extends beyond the classroom – it covers all College property.”
Jones also answered that the prohibition extends to all candidates in the Rockford area, including the mayoral, township, aldermen/women, and the Board of Trustees election.
Another Administrative employee contacted, Dave Costello, had a similar understanding on the policy noted in the e-mail from Jones. However he also thinks it applies to campaigns on a much larger stage.
“My interpretation of the board policy is that this applies to any political campaigning for any candidate running for any office, whether locally, at state level, or federal,” said Costello, Executive Director of Communications and Marketing Communications.
Despite the Administration’s reasoning, the message was met with backlash.
“I understand there are policies about union and campaign signage on campus/property. They are in place and implemented for a reason. I do believe, however, that displaying in someone’s personal vehicle, as I have noticed, should not be considered violating those policies as it is their personally owned property,” said student Candice Overby.
“We cannot determine the intention of the email. It did not clarify if this was meant for cars, although since no one seems to be putting campaign signs on the lawn at RVC, one could conclude that it was intended to stop people from using signs in the cars…You’ll notice that Jessica Jones made it clear she was just the messenger. Perhaps you can ask who the original message came from and ask for clarification from him/her,” said one campus employee, who has requested to remain anonymous.
Employees were perceived as violating the school’s Code of Ethics and Solicitation policy by the current Administration. Some faculty decided to test the limits of this policy by moving their cars from the designated faculty lots, but were still recognized through their license plates. While these policies are specific and exact, no where does it state that employees are not allowed to campaign in their personal vehicles.
Although both Jones and Costello stated that the issue involved displaying propaganda of the multiple elections in th city, those with bumper stickers and large campaign signs in their cars were supporting three specific candidates: Nelson, Bodine and Gorksi, who are all running for the Board of Trustees.
Many employees saw this email as a personal violation of their right to free speech, and some questioned why it was brought up a week before the election, set to take place on April 4th.