Oct. 13, 2011

Do's and don'ts of political activity at Iowa State

by Diana Pounds

Iowa's early caucuses will bring the usual parade of presidential hopefuls and national media to Iowa and Iowa State University over the next few months. The political goings-on can be exciting, but they often require deft handling by faculty and staff to ensure that the university does not promote partisan causes or candidates.

In this Q&A, university counsel Paul Tanaka answers questions on campus political activity.

What's the key point to be made about political activities on campus?

The key point is neutrality. While Iowa State University is a place for exchange of ideas, including political ideas, our obligation as a public institution is to not favor a particular partisan political cause or candidate. This is more than a matter of maintaining the public trust. As a state institution and non-profit organization, Iowa State must abide by federal and state restrictions on the use of its property, equipment and facilities to influence the vote.

Can university buildings be used for political campaign activities?

Generally, campaign events should be held in spaces available for public use, such as the Memorial Union (4-1437) or the Iowa State Center (4-3347). To assure fairness and to give priority for academic uses, the university discourages use of academic buildings and spaces for campaign events. As public buildings fill up, exceptions may need to be made. Those getting requests for academic space for a campaign event should contact Cathy Brown (4-6001). She will insure that scheduling alternatives have been considered and will monitor to assure fairness.

If current public officials request facility tours, is it OK to comply?

As long as the purpose of the tour is to provide information for the public official and does not involve a solicitation for votes, it will not be treated as a campaign event. Generally, such events should be coordinated through Government Relations (4-4941).

As ISU faculty and staff, can we speak up about our personal political views?

Faculty and staff can speak and act as individual citizens, but they shouldn't say or imply that their views are those of the university.

Does that mean I may talk politics in the office?

Yes, if you're not disrupting the work.

If I express a political view in a letter to the editor, is it OK to use my university title?

For purposes of identification, you can use your university title, as long as you don't imply that you speak on behalf of the university. If there's a chance of confusion, it is your obligation to clarify that you're speaking only for yourself.

May I engage in activities supporting candidates or ballot measures?

If it's on your own time and with your own equipment, yes. However, state law prohibits working on a political campaign during work hours and posting political campaign signs on state property, which would include your workplace and the building and grounds of campus.

May I invite a candidate or political advocate to speak to my class?

Federal law requires that all candidates have equal and fair access to the university. If you invite a candidate or advocate to your class, you must give opposing candidates and speakers the same opportunity. They need not take advantage of that opportunity.

Are candidate forums allowed?

Yes, if the forums or series of events are balanced and intended to educate the community on issues relevant to an upcoming election.

What about an ISU faculty or staff member presenting research on the political process or a ballot measure?

Yes, assuming it's not a pretext for supporting a candidate or measure.

May university officials comment on how candidate actions or ballot measures might affect Iowa State?

Yes, as long as the comments reflect concern about the university and its mission. The comments cannot be simply an attempt to influence the success or failure of candidates or measures.