Political advocacy among staff and faculty is not only common but also encouraged, as long as certain policies concerning the university are followed. Faculty and staff just have to be mindful of a few rules.
UC Davis Government and Community Relations encourages active political participation, as long as political activity is not performed on university time and no university resources are used.
“We can’t use university resources for political purposes,” said Marjorie Dickinson, assistant vice chancellor for Government and Community Relations. “How that manifests itself and what it means depends. For a university e-mail account, I always tell people that part of the e-mail policy allows for incidental use for non-UC purpose. I generally recommend that if they get an invitation to a political fundraiser I recommend they either forward to their home e-mail or at minimum respond after hours.“
“We strongly encourage faculty, staff and students to be involved in the political process,” said director of Local Government Relations Gary Sandy. “We think it’s important people take part in the system of governance – part in campus and election cycles. We strongly encourage active participation.“
Sandy said that violations of campus policies tend to be accidents. The most frequent violations are political endorsements where people use their official university title to endorse a candidate or a ballot measure.
“It seems to convey an impression that the university is also behind that candidate or measure,” he said.
Even then, faculty and staff members may use their official title as long as it is used in conjunction with the disclaimer “for identification purposes only.“
“Most often there is no need to use title at all,” Sandy said. “You could identify yourself as John Smith, professor of biology, Davis, Calif. and that is not a problem. Using the ‘University of California‘ is a problem.“
Using university resources or engaging in political activities on university time is against campus policy. Government and Community Relations sent out a letter this year through the deans‘ offices to let them know the rules and to notify their staff. They also offer support and guidance to faculty, students and staff who interact with government officials.
“Any way they need help if they have questions about what they can and can’t do we can advise them on how to be most effective,” said Dickinson. “When elected officials come to campaign and if they are hosted by students we will offer advice to students with the logistics. We try to balance offering advice and help and making sure students are in the lead.“
Wearing a button to class or making a political utterance in a lecture is a gray area.
“Campaigning is more of an effort over a significant period of time that is visible to the public rather than incidental acts of saying you support a measure,” Sandy said. “Intellectual freedom is one of the values of the community. There is a difference between having a bumper sticker in the inside of a locker door versus posting a huge ‘vote for me‘ political poster in the lobby of a building where public has access.“
This year, prominent issues have included Proposition 2, a measure that would change standards for confining farm animals by prohibiting restrictive confinement of animals like chickens and pigs.
“That issue has deeply divided the veterinarian community so we have had instances where official titles have appeared – mostly on websites,” Sandy said. “We had very good success with websites not including references to the university or using disclaimers.“
Frequently, violations of using an official title tend to have a “casual, off-the-cuff” nature of political interaction where staff and faculty identify themselves simply because they are used to be being identified this way.
The UC Regents support Proposition 3, a California children’s hospital bond issue that will give $980,000,000 in bonds to enhance facilities in children’s hospitals.
“The Regents of the University of California, the policy-making body for the UC system, have the ability to endorse measures,” said Sandy. “They endorsed the children’s hospital funding measure because we operate a number of hospitals in the UC system.“
Student and political organizations have different policies, whereas staff and faculty are actual employees of the university. Similarly, they cannot say they are representing the views of UC Davis or that they are representing more than their own views. Student Affairs handles direct assistance with those who are registering voters, and Government and Community Relations work closely with them, said Dickinson.
“Student organization and as an individual, students have their first amendment right and their rights under the constitution to assemble and state their views and be involved in political process,” said Donald J. Dudley, associate director of Student Judicial Affairs.
POOJA KUMAR can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org