In light of corruption at the highest levels of state government, all state employees, including those employed by the University of Illinois, have been required to take an annual ethics course since 2004. Though it is important to be aware of all laws and regulations pertaining to our jobs, many feel that the test is demeaning or at best a waste of time, scolding University employees for crimes committed by elected officials. In addition, the training clearly confuses the distinction between genuine ethical standards and the mere public appearance of ethical behavior.
University of Illinois mathematics professor Lou van den Dries protested this training in an act of civil disobedience, for which he was fined $500 by the State of Illinois Executive Ethics Commission. University Spokesman Tom Hardy spoke on behalf of the University community with this statement: "We support and respect the decision of the Executive Ethics Commission."
By taking sides in this matter, the University spokesman represented only the administration's wishes to avoid conflict and did not represent the larger University community. Though we demand the highest ethical standards for public employees, we cannot justify the condescension of mandatory ethics training for University employees. We respect Professor van den Dries's courage and intent in his protest. We believe the University owes Professor van den Dries an apology for taking sides against him through the statements of the University Spokesman. In addition, the University should acknowledge the larger University community's frustration with mandatory ethics training.