System defines campaigning on campus
With the much-anticipated election rapidly approaching in November, the UW System has issued an updated version of political guidelines for students and faculty to follow who want to participate in politics on campus.
The document, entitled Guidelines on Political Campaign Activities at UW System Institutions, addresses 10 frequently asked questions relating to political campaign activity on the System campuses for faculty, students and the university as a whole.
“The guidelines have been in place for a long time, but are being recently updated due to the upcoming primaries and presidential election this year,” said David F. Giroux, executive director of communications and external relations for the System.
According to state law, faculty and employees are allowed to participate in political campaign activities, but it must be on their private time. Giroux said that university employees have an equal opportunity to participate in political activities as anyone else, but must be done so in the right and proper manner.
“The main goal of these guidelines is to draw the line between what is political campaign involvement and civic involvement,” Giroux said. “We are not trying to impair free speech or put them at risk.”
Junior Bobby Hamill, chairman of the College Republicans at UW-Eau Claire, said the distinction between political campaign activity on and off campus is important.
“It is important to keep the two distinct, especially for faculty,” he said. “They have a high amount of influence in the classroom, so they need to make sure they are neutral in whatever they work in. The guidelines do a really good job defining what is campaigning and what is work for faculty.”
There are also restrictions as to how much an employee can support a candidate publicly on campus.
According to the State Office of Employment Relations, state employees are prohibited from “the wearing of a political identification while on duty where it could impair the effectiveness of the state agencies’ operation.” Furthermore, no employee can post or attach any signs, posters or pictures on a university building.
Employees can hold a political fundraiser off campus and make contributions to a campaign, as long as it is on their own time and with own resources, according to the guidelines.
Giroux said there are rarely violations pertaining to the guidelines. He believes this is because the guidelines are clear and continuously updated regarding campus issues.
“The guidelines do a good job of providing information to employees,” Giroux said. “We are periodically sending out a reminder to faculty.”
The guidelines for students are a bit more relaxed. The document states students and student organizations are allowed to organize a political event on campus and can inform and educate people on voting. However, students and student organizations cannot use segregated fees or university resources to contribute to a political campaign.
Students are allowed to express specific views about parties and candidates, and can sponsor events for a particular party or person, so long as they comply with university rules.
“I would say the guidelines are pretty fair,” Hamill said. “They deal with a lot of campaign issues specifically relating to faculty and students.Without them, there would be a big debate on what people can and cannot do.”
Regarding campus as a whole, if candidates are invited to speak, all other qualified candidates must be invited and given an equal chance to speak, according to the document. This can be seen when Chelsea Clinton, Barack Obama and Mike Huckabee made appearances on campus last spring.
“We are not trying to squash healthy political debate,” Giroux said. “It is critically important to be fully engaged as active citizens to play an active role in democracy.”
Hamill feels political involvement on campus is important as well.
“Campuses are supposed to be a place for free exchange of ideas, where student and faculty can form their opinions.”