Exactly what kinds of political speech and/or activity are allowed – or not allowed – on the DePaul University campus?
Students, faculty and staff might have wondered after receiving an email sent Sept. 11 by DePaul President Rev. Dennis H. Holtschneider, C.M., reminding the university community “to avoid the appearance that DePaul is engaged in inappropriate partisan campaign activity.”
Rev. Holtschneider went on to ask everyone to review the university’s policies regarding political activity.
After logging in, students will find a warning that “DePaul, as an organization exempt from tax under Section 501(c)3, may undertake no activity whatsoever on behalf of or in opposition to any candidate for public office, whether such office be federal, state or local. This is an absolute prohibition.”
So does everyone need to take off those Obama or Romney buttons? And how about signs in dorm windows?
Answer: No and maybe, according to a close reading of the above DePaul Policy and Procedures Manual covering political activities. Buttons are okay in that “students may wear political reference paraphernalia” but dorm signs might not be because “students may post campaign signs, fliers, etc., for political candidates in their personal rooms, only if such material is not posted for public viewing (i.e., not placed in a window facing out).”
Elsewhere on campus, the student-run newspaper and radio station can make political endorsements, and DePaul-sanctioned political clubs can knock themselves out … so long as they aren’t given special breaks on activity fees or hall rentals, but do remind the public that the club’s views are not those of the University.
Faculty may not use DePaul stationary when making partisan appeals. But they can offer opinions to the media as DePaul faculty … so long as those opinions are within the employee’s “professional expertise.”
Math professors, it seems, may want to keep their opinions to themselves.
Not that the University wants DePaulians to be political eunuchs.
“I encourage you to register to vote and to participate in our democratic processes,” Rev Holtschneider writes in his email. He even urges students to get involved in DePaul Votes 2012 as well as “the many campus events planned in connection with the upcoming election.”
He does warn, though, that “it is important that we all respect the views of others-views that may be very different than our own.”
Communication Specialist Deborah Snow-Humiston at DePaul’s Office of Public Relations and Communications offered this insight into the email’s fundamental message:
“Fr. Dennis Holtschneider’s recent email was a reminder that, in this election season, everyone in the DePaul community is encouraged to fully express themselves in the political process, especially by voting, but also to avoid inappropriate campaign activity that threatens DePaul’s tax exempt status.”
So wear those buttons proudly … but you better get that sign out of the window.