Saturday, September 20, 2008

Sneaky Little Rights Violations

I am well aware that universities work in weird ways. However, I got this e-mail a few days ago, and I am pretty sure there are some constitutional rights violations going on. I'm horrified. Now, I know they have sneaky ways of getting around inconsequential things like constitutional rights (ie: like the way my dear alma mater did when certain fundamentalists came to town), but this irks me.

The text of the e-mail, followed by my questions (demarcated by dashes):


Prohibited Political Activity :
Upcoming elections and how this impacts you as an employee

Tuesday, November 4, 2008, is the 2008 Presidential Election. There will be many activities on campus and nationwide related to the election over the coming months. So, it is important that as an employee of the [Cornfield Univ.], you are aware of the elements of the State Officials and Employees Ethics Act that may impact your participation. First and foremost, the law is not intended to hinder or in any way violate your individual freedoms. In fact, the activities defined as "prohibited" per the law are only prohibited while employees are on University time or using University resources or property. If the appropriate benefit time is charged and the activities do not take place on University property, it is permissible for you, while representing yourself individually (not as a University employee), to become involved in such events.
The concept of prohibited political activity is challenging to fully define, so it is always a good idea to consult with the University Ethics Office if you are unsure

Some of the main categories of commonly occurring prohibited political activity are explained below. Remember, these are things employees can not do while working, when on University property, while using University resources (e.g., phone, fax, paper, email, etc.), or when acting as a representative of the University; but they are things that can take place if the appropriate benefit time is used and University property and resources are not involved:

  • Preparing for or participating in any rally or event related to a specific political candidate, party, or referendum - this includes preparation and circulation of campaign materials, petitions, or literature
  • Soliciting contributions or votes on behalf of a particular political party or candidate
  • Assisting at the polls on behalf of any political party, candidate, or organization
  • Surveying or conducting an opinion poll related to anticipating an election outcome, or participating in a recount challenge related to an election outcome
  • Running for political office

The law isn't always as clear as we'd like, so here are a few specific examples to better define what is and what is not considered prohibited political activity (can't be performed on University time without appropriate benefit usage; and never on University property or using University resources):

Prohibited Political Activity
Acceptable Political Activity
Wearing a pin or t-shirt in support of the Democratic Party or Republican Party, or a Democratic/Republican candidate vote pin/buttonWearing a pin encouraging others to vote that is not specific to any particular party or candidate
A supervisor requiring an employee to engage in political activity outside of work
An employee independently choosing to engage in political activities outside of work
Distributing, producing, or posting flyers or other campaign literature on campus during lunch or break time
Distributing, producing, or posting flyers or other campaign literature at an off-campus location during lunch or break time
Registering employees to vote in a booth that is clearly designated to one political party or candidate

Registering employees to vote while on their lunch or other designated breaks in a party-neutral booth

Specific examples of things that are expressly prohibited include:

  • Placing a collection jar on your desk or even in a break room to solicit funds for a specific political candidate or party
  • Attending a rally on University property specific to a political candidate or party - regardless of whether or not you are on University time

The University Ethics Office can not and does not intend to police each of the campuses for political buttons, t-shirts, bumper stickers, etc. Instead, we ask that employees educate themselves and become aware of their responsibilities to the law as it relates to employment with [Cornfield University]. Knowing the various aspects of the prohibited political activities section of the Ethics Act will simply assist you in acting in a manner that is consistent with the law.


All righty. I understand why it is unethical to use university resources available to you as an employee, or why it would be unethical to use the time they are paying you for to further your own political affiliations. HOWEVER, the fact that you cannot, at any time, engage in political activity on campus cannot be legal (wait, wait. Who am I kidding? Anything is legal under this administration). What I gather from this is that if you are an employee of the university (and guess who falls under this category? Moi) you may not ever, at any time, engage in political activity. That. Is. Out. Rageous. I am going to get in SO much trouble during my time here. So much.

Thoughts? I cannot be much more coherent than this because I am utterly flabbergasted. Rendered speechless.

I wonder if this applies to elections only, or all political activity? 'Cause if it's all, they should just fire me now...


Teacher Poet said...

Bumperstickers? Oh come on! Well, good thing you don't park your car on campus property. :-D

Michael5000 said...

These kind of policies have been standard issue everywhere for decades, and make a certain sense. The university isn't (and couldn't, and shouldn't) endorsing a candidate, and you represent the university.

Also, you are in a position of power over students; if you were promoting a candidate or issue, it creates a vast playing field of issues: "Professor Twist grades easier for people who support X," "I felt like I had to say I supported X to get a good grade in Professor Twist's class," and of course "I feel uncomfortable in Professor Twist's class because she openly expouses political beliefs opposed to my own." It's trouble you might not need.

Finally, you are funded by guvment money, so there's an inherent conflict of interest in promoting a political viewpoint while or where you're getting paid.

It's the same way in most public and non-profit settings. If you consider what a fully-politicized workplace would look and feel like, you might actually be pretty relieved....