Legal Brief: Political Campaigning on a Kent State Campus
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With the presidential election and general election less than six months away, there will be many opportunities for Kent State University to participate in election-related activities. This could take the form of class assignments, debates, candidate appearances and political ads.
While university-sponsored political activities are permitted on any Kent State campus, there are guidelines that must be followed. Please review the guidelines* below (the guidelines do not cover student organization activities). If you are not sure about whether a proposed activity is permitted, contact the Office of General Counsel at 330-672-2982 or legal [at] kent.edu.
Permitted Political Activities:
- May provide access to airtime on a university-owned radio or TV station on an equal basis to all legally qualified candidates for a public office, in a manner consistent with the limits imposed by the Federal Communications Commission.
- May provide opportunities to speak at college or university events on an equal basis to all legally qualified candidates for a public office. If the institution invites candidates to speak individually in their capacity as a candidate, it must take steps to ensure that all such legally qualified candidates are invited and that none are favored.
- May conduct institution-sponsored public forums to which all legally qualified candidates for a public office (or for the nomination of a particular party) are invited and given equal access and opportunity to speak, if the format and content of the forum are presented in a neutral manner.
- May invite candidates to appear in a noncandidate capacity, provided that the individual is chosen to speak solely for reasons other than his/her candidacy, the individual speaks only in his/her noncandidate capacity, no reference to the election is made, and the organization maintains a nonpartisan atmosphere at the event. Campaigning at the event should be prohibited.
Use of Institutional Resources
- May establish genuine curricular activities aimed at educating students with respect to the political process.
- May rearrange the academic calendar to permit students, faculty and administrators to participate in the election process, if the rearrangement is made without reference to particular campaigns or political issues; provided that the recess is in substitution for another period that would have been free of curricular activity.
- May provide financial and administrative support to a student newspaper even though the newspaper publishes editorial opinions on political and legislative matters.
- May allow established student groups to use institutional facilities for partisan political purposes.
Voter Education (including voter guides) and Voter Registration
- May circulate unbiased questionnaires to all candidates for an office, provided that the questionnaires cover a broad range of subjects and neither reflect political skew nor contain editorial opinion.
- May conduct public opinion polls with respect to issues (rather than candidates), provided that the questions are framed to be fair and neutral, accepted polling techniques are used, and the questions do not directly or indirectly concern records or positions of particular candidates or parties. With respect to such activities of faculty, the limitations should be addressed with due regard for academic freedom.
- May participate in nonpartisan voter registration activities, provided that the activities are not intended to target voters of a particular party or to help particular candidates, and provided that particular geographic areas are not selected to favor any party of candidates.
Faculty and Staff Participation in the Election Process
- Members of the college or university community are entitled to participate, off-hours, as they see fit, in the election process; provided that speaking or acting in the name of the institution is prohibited and they are not acting at the direction of an institutional official.
- A faculty or staff member may engage in campaign-related activity that is outside normal work hours.
Prohibited Political Activities
- Conducting “voter education” activities that are confined to a narrow range of issues or skewed in favor of certain candidates or a political party.
- Publishing ratings of the candidates, particularly in situations where the ratings could be viewed as reflecting the views of the institution, or institutional resources are used in connection with the preparation or publication of such ratings without reimbursement at the normal charge.
- Endorsing, expressly or impliedly, a candidate for public office. This includes placing signs on university property and contributing to political campaign funds.
- Commenting on specific actions, statements or positions taken by candidates, including incumbents, in the course of their campaigns.
- Promoting voting with respect to issues that have become highly identified as dividing lines between the candidates.
- Coordinating voter education activities with campaign events.
- Public statements, oral or written, by institutional officials in support of a candidate, political party, PAC or the like, where there is risk that the statements would be perceived as support or endorsement by the institution.
- Coordinating institutional fundraising with fundraising of a candidate for public office, political party, PAC or the like.
- Reimbursing college or university officials for campaign contributions.
- Providing mailing lists, use of office space, telephones, network access, photocopying or other institutional facilities or support to a candidate, campaign, political party, political action committee or the like free of charge.
- Using institutional letterhead in support of a candidate, political party or political action committee.
* Guidelines excerpted from “Political campaign-related activities of and at colleges and universities” as published by American Council on Education and prepared by Hogan Lovells US LLP (March 2016).