Illinois college rescinds order banning mascot critics from talking to athletes
By The Associated Press
|University of Illinois mascot Chief Illiniwek dances at halftime during Illinois-Iowa football game on Oct. 14, 2000, in Champaign, Ill.
URBANA, Ill. The University of Illinois has rescinded an earlier requirement that faculty and students get permission from the athletic department before talking with athletic recruits about their opposition to the Chief Illiniwek mascot.
Chancellor Michael Aiken, slated to retire later this summer, sent a campuswide e-mail yesterday backing off an earlier written warning that the university would not tolerate such contacts because they might violate NCAA rules.
Aiken's first warning came March 2, after several faculty members announced they would begin contacting high-profile recruits to "educate" them about the racial issues surrounding the school's use of an American Indian symbol and mascot.
With the backing of the American Civil Liberties Union, seven faculty members and students sued the university in federal court claiming Aiken's warning violated the free-speech rights of everyone on campus.
U.S. District Judge Michael Mihm agreed, issuing a temporary restraining order forbidding the university from taking action against any member of the UI community based on Aiken's earlier warning.
In yesterday's message, Aiken wrote "in light of Judge Mihm's order ... and more recent testimony by representatives of the National Collegiate Athletic Association, I have concluded that express authorization of the Director of Athletics ... should not be required."
UI first planned to fight the ruling, asking for a full hearing before the judge issued a more permanent order. While the chancellor's message seemed to end any threat of action for contacting recruits, ACLU lawyers said they had not yet determined whether it resolves the lawsuit.
In a written statement issued by the seven plaintiffs, anti-Chief Illiniwek activists pledged to continue fighting to retire a mascot they have long deemed racially divisive.
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