University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign Adopts Student Choice Policy on Dissection

The University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign (UIUC) has apparently become the first Big Ten school to adopt a student choice policy for classroom dissections, successfully ending a two-year campaign by the campus group, Students Improving the Lives of Animals (SILA), to bring about the change without protests or civil disobedience.

The university's Senate voted on Monday, May 5, to adopt the Educational Policy Committee's proposal, which will require instructors of general education courses to provide alternatives if the course currently includes animal dissection. According to the student newspaper, The Daily Illini, the policy will affect only one course, Animal Sciences 231. Upper-level courses will not be required to offer an alternative, but students who do not want to participate in dissections will have the opportunity to appeal to the department if alternatives are not offered.

The new policy, which goes into effect in the fall semester of 2003, marks the first time UIUC students are guaranteed to have the choice to opt out of dissection for ethical and/or religious reasons. In the past, dissection alternatives were offered only at the discretion of the instructor. But the new policy is also the latest chapter in the ongoing saga of students lobbying for dissection alternatives, (see "Student Takes a Slice out of School Board's Dissection Requirement" below), and some UIUC students clearly hope the policy serves as a precedent for others to follow.

Danielle Marino, founder of SILA, and the other members began their campaign in 2001. The students enlisted the help of a sympathetic faculty member in the Department of Animal Sciences as well as members of the student government who, along with SILA, view the policy as a students' rights issue as well as an animal protection matter.

A number of other student organizations at UIUC supported SILA's endeavor, including the Indian Student Association, Students for Democratic Thought, and the Illinois Student Environmental Network. Additionally, SILA developed contacts with the local media and developed a web site devoted to the issue of student choice. SILA also contacted The HSUS for assistance and support.

Marino emphasized the importance of working within the university system rather than participating in traditional protests and civil disobedience. She noted that, "civil disobedience or outrageous tactics would have destroyed our chances for this policy. We worked within the political system on campus, and that meant that our traditional activism had to be put on hold and replaced with a campaign."

In September of 2002, the Illinois Student Government unanimously voted in favor of the student choice policy. Felipe Hillard, a member of the Student Senate Caucus, which serves as the students' voice in the university Senate, said, "The whole point [of the policy] is consistency. It doesn't take away dissection in classes…It just says if you have an ethical objection, we have a recourse for your faith and beliefs."

Prior to the policy proposal's review and vote by the university's Education Policy Committee, The HSUS submitted testimony to the UIUC chancellor in support of SILA's efforts, and emphasized the importance of dissection alternatives.

"Many interactive, hands-on, experimental but equally humane resources exist that provide full computer-based dissections, along with other resources," wrote The HSUS. "These resources enable the student to learn in the same way as in traditional methods…They are repeatable, durable and therefore highly cost-effective."

According to Marino, UIUC is the first Big Ten university to have a campus-wide initiative for animal dissection. She added, "That's why we put so much effort into something that may seem small…I hope that other students are empowered to use this precedent as a push for their own policies."

The HSUS provides a free Humane Education Loan Program to enable teachers to try alternatives to dissection and live animal labs; we also offer a science consultancy service to help teachers find the best resources for their classes. Additionally, in 2002, The HSUS published a full-color, free informational brochure about student choice policies.

Sources: Students Improving the Lives of Animals, The Daily Illini Online (April 29 and May 6), The HSUS

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