Political Expression Guidelines

Guidelines Regarding Political Activity by Staff of the University of Iowa

The University of Iowa fully supports the constitutional right of staff members to express their personal opinions regarding political candidates and issues in ways that do not affect their university employment.

As employees of a public institution, however, staff do have a responsibility when exercising their right to be clear that their opinions are their own and that they are not expressed within the scope of their university employment responsibilities. Staff must also take care to adhere to policies regarding use of university resources. Finally, political expression may still have an impact upon employment in the case of individuals who serve “at will” as temporary, probationary employees, or those in administrative, policy-making or leadership positions, unless their speech, action or expression of opinion is otherwise protected. 

The purpose of this document is to ensure that UI staff members know their rights and responsibilities under applicable policies as they engage in discourse about political matters.

Expression of Political Views Outside the Employment Context

University staff members have the rights and obligations of any citizen, including the right to organize and join political or other associations, convene and conduct public meetings and publicize their opinions on political and social issues. Staff members should feel free, for example: to work in support of political candidates or issues on their own time; erect yard signs at their homes in support of candidates, bills, or referenda; use their personal telephone or email account to campaign for candidates or issues; or comment on social media using their personal computer or other personal device, so long as what they are doing does not have an impact upon the University or their ability to work effectively in their university role.

Obligation not to Represent University’s Position on Legislative, Political, or Other Matters

When staff members act or speak as private citizens, they should make clear that their views and/or actions are entirely their own and are not within the scope of their employment responsibilities at the University. While staff members are free to comment privately on legislative issues in their personal capacity, the university’s position on legislative issues is set by the Board of Regents, State of Iowa, after consultation with university administration. It is not appropriate for staff speaking outside their university employment responsibilities to represent the university’s position on any issue.

Use of Staff Member’s University Title when Expressing Opinions to Elected Officials, the Press, Social Media, or Others

According to the policy on Use of University Name (OM II-33), staff members may use their university title for identification purposes so long as use of the title does not imply the individual is speaking or acting on behalf of the university. For example, a UI staff member may sign a petition and add the job title identifier "Research Assistant, College of Public Health, University of Iowa." However, where use of the university title would imply that the staff member is expressing the university’s viewpoint or position – for instance, where the staff member has an administrative role – use of the title is not appropriate unless the university has adopted such a position and the staff member is charged with representing that position in an official capacity.

Use of University Name or Letterhead when Expressing Opinions to Elected Officials, the Press, Social Media, or Others

The Use of University Name policy (OM II-33) states that "[t]he use of the University name for any purpose in any non-University endeavor not previously sanctioned by the Office of Strategic Communication is prohibited." Specifically, this policy prohibits the use of university letterhead for non-university correspondence to elected officials or others, explaining, "The use of University letterhead for that purpose is potentially confusing to elected officials because it implies that the writer is speaking on behalf of the University.”

Obligation not to Use uiowa.edu Email Account or Other University Resources to Engage in Personal Political Activities or to Lobby Public Officials

The policy on Use of University Resources (OM II-32.7) states that, "University resources, including the University's electronic address (email, web) shall not be used for 1) personal political activities, including directly or indirectly participating in, or intervening in, any political campaign on behalf of or in opposition to any candidate for elective office, or for 2) lobbying of public officials. Use of the university’s email system to lobby public officials is prohibited even if the staff member makes clear that the email expresses solely that individual’s personal views. The Acceptable Use of Information Technology Resources (OM II-19) prohibits personal use of university email for “personal political activities such as campaigning for candidates for public office, or for lobbying of public officials.”

Right to Contact Legislators about Bills Involving Topics on which the Staff Member is a Content Expert

As noted above, the Use of University Resources policy (OM III-32.7) clarifies as follows the distinction between "lobbying" and other communication with public officials regarding policy matters: "University resources, including the University's electronic address (email, web) shall not be used for... lobbying of public officials. For purposes of this policy, ’lobbying’ does not include individual staff sharing or providing information or opinions with public officials on matters of policy within their areas of expertise when directed by their supervisor."

There are times when the UI is directly involved in the legislative process and may have taken a formal position on a particular bill. Staff are encouraged to contact the UI Office of Governmental Affairs for information before contacting members of the legislature about legislative issues.

Expression of Political Views in the Classroom and in Other Instructional Contexts

The policy on Responsibilities to the Community (OM III-15.6) states that a "faculty member does not use the classroom to solicit support for personal views and opinions." This faculty policy provides guidance for staff members in instructional roles. Controversial political topics may certainly be introduced into classroom discussions and in other instructional contexts—and should be—but with appropriate regard to context. The Board of Regents, State of Iowa policy on Academic Freedom states, "University teachers shall be entitled to academic freedom in the classroom in discussing the teachers’ course subject, but shall not introduce into the teaching controversial matters that have no relation to the subject." University policy further provides that "[o]n controversial issues within the scope of the course a reasonable range of opinion should be presented. When the faculty member presents his or her own views on such issues, they should always be identified as such." per the Operations Manual guidelines on Responsibilities to Students (OM III-15.2). Moreover, "[e]very student is entitled to the same intellectual freedom which the faculty member enjoys. The faculty member must respect that freedom. Restraints must not be imposed upon the student's search for or consideration of diverse or contrary opinion…. The classroom must remain a place where free and open discussion of all content and issues relevant to a course can take place."

Teaching and mentoring occur outside the classroom as well as within it. When interacting with students, neither faculty nor staff should purport to speak for the university and should take care to clarify when their comments represent their own personal views. Similarly, staff should refrain from displaying or communicating political messages in places or in ways that might imply university support for the message. For instance, displaying political messages may ordinarily be permissible in private workspaces. However, if such political messages would be immediately visible to the public or to public areas – for example, if posted on a staff member’s outward-facing window or on the outside of an office door facing a public space – the staff member should consider whether those materials might suggest university support for the message. In addition, staff members are encouraged to consider whether communicating, displaying, or wearing a particular political message may adversely affect their ability to show respect for and elicit "diverse or contrary opinion" in the classroom.

The foregoing policies apply to all faculty, including adjunct faculty. For more information about faculty rights and responsibilities, please contact Kevin Kregel, Associate Provost for Faculty at 335-0256 or kevin-kregel@uiowa.edu. They provide guidance regarding political views in the instructional context generally.