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Friday, April 16, 2021

UW releases guidelines describing limitations of political activity

In the midst of increased political activity around the state, UW-Madison posted guidelines Wednesday reminding faculty, students and staff of appropriate political activity on campus.

The rules discourage students, faculty and staff from engaging in political activity in university buildings and housing. They also prohibit employees from using university resources for political advocacy or participating in political actions when they should be working.

An example of inappropriate behavior would include a professor sending emails from a university account, urging colleagues to support or vote against Gov. Scott Walker, according to UW-Madison Political Science Professor and free-speech expert Donald Downs.

Downs agreed with the purpose of the guidelines.

"I think that's a principled thing for the university to do," he said. "People should do their best to abide by [the guidelines]."

While Downs said inappropriate political activity could warrant fines and reprimands, the university does not strongly enforce the rules.

"I don't think [violating the guidelines] is really criminal, but there could be some kind of violation," he said. "I've never heard of them being applied."

According to Downs, consequences of violating the guidelines would depend on the seriousness of violation as well as how long-standing and repeated it is.

Downs criticized the guidelines for being ambiguous at times. He said individual professors, students and staff members can engage in political activity on their own, as long as they are not using university resources to do so.

"The fact that we're faculty members and staff of the university shouldn't mean we can't talk about [political] things," he said.

"That to me is different from actively using university resources to push causes and rally people around candidates and things like that."

For full details on the guidelines, visit the University of Wisconsin news homepage.

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