News Local/State

Campus Senate Approves ‘Inclusive Climate’ Measure After Healthy Debate

U of I Asian American Studies Professor Naomi Paik addresses Urbana Chancellor Robert Jones and the Academic Senate Monday at the Illini Union.

U of I Asian American Studies Professor Naomi Paik addresses Urbana Chancellor Robert Jones and the Academic Senate Monday at the Illini Union. Jeff Bossert/Illinois Public Media

A faculty-student panel at the University of Illinois has passed a measure that renews a commitment to diversity, and a welcoming climate for minority and LGBT students in the wake of the presidential election. But there was also a fair amount of debate at Monday’s meeting of the Urbana Campus Senate - primarily over whether the 'Resolution on an Inclusive Campus Senate' needed further review.

There were cheers after the 97-to-17 vote to pass the measure. But U of I Student Senator Alex Villanueva was among those seeking further review by a senate committee

“I think in reality, the day that president-elect Trump becomes president, the world’s not going to change that drastically, and think we just could have spent a little more time making sure that a certain change in university policy is really thorough, really thought through," he said.

The Senate’s measure addressed not only incidents involving hate speech and intimidation on campus, but also raised questions about U of I police intervention in classrooms - citing an October incident when two officers questioned two students during an African-American Studies class over a stolen cell phone.

Its Professor, Erik McDuffie, called the incident racial in nature, and urged for quick passage of the resolution.

“It sends a signal to everyone that we are an inclusive space that respects the dignity of every individual and that we have a right to learn, to survive, to be here, and to thrive, like anyone else," he said.

There were questions about the merits of the resolution, but Kinesiology and Community Health Professor Kim Graber said she wanted to hear the U of I Police Department's side of the story regarding McDuffie's class, and was concerned about the appendix describing it within the resolution.

"Without hearing the viewpoints of other people involved, I think really sets a dangerous precedent and is a very slippery slope for us to go down," she said.

But Asian American Studies Professor Naomi Paik called the resolution "very well thought out" and said statements in the document regarding police were more about investigatory issues rather than condeming the police.

"I also think that we have multiple students who were in that classroom, as well as the faculty member who were there, and if they say that this happened, then it happened," she said. 

U of I Urbana campus Chancellor Robert Jones says he’s been in talks with U of I Police Chief Jeff Christensen about officers’ best practices, and hasn’t had a chance to thoroughly study a report about the classroom incident. 

"The notion that I was pleased that came through this (Monday) evening, is the fact that we are already working hard that our students are not fearful of police for any reason," he said. 

But Jones also says talk of that incident diluted any conversation regarding undocumented students on campus.

U of I Associate Professor of English Siobhan Sommerville (at mic) and a group of students present petition to make the Urbana campus a sanctuary for undocumented immigrants at Monday's UI Senate meeting. U of I President Tim Killeen looks on.

Photo Credit: Jeff Bossert/Illinois Public Media

Meanwhile, he says U of I leaders are making progress regarding a petition that was just delivered to his office - seeking to make the Urbana a 'sanctuary campus' for those students. Jones plans a response in the next few weeks.

"I don't think it raises any issues that we aren't already considering," he said.

About 200 attended Monday's Campus Senate meeting at the Illini Union.