Is the University of Oklahoma chilling political speech?
UPDATE 10/27: President Boren has sent out a follow-up mailing that rescinds this policy and unequivocally rejects any limitations on individual speech. Better late than never, right?
I just received this little note from my beloved alma mater (emphasis added):
Dear Faculty, Staff and Students,
With the political season in full swing, the University wishes to remind you of certain regulations affecting state agencies and the use of the University’s email/network systems for political campaigns. As a state agency, the University must ensure it respects the rights of all political candidates, their representatives and others. In furtherance of this, the University may not endorse or oppose a particular candidate for office. This includes the use by its faculty, staff and students of its email and network systems. Please be mindful that University email/network systems may not be used to endorse or oppose a candidate, including the forwarding of political humor/commentary. The University’s email/network system is a state resource and must be used for educational and business purposes, recognizing a limited personal use. This personal use may not include political issues outside of the educational context as it places the University at risk of losing its tax exempt status. Thank you for your understanding and cooperation.
Executive Vice President and
Vice President Administration and Finance
OU can’t really think it can forbid students from using their OU email addresses to forward political commentary, can it? I sent a follow-up email to Mr. Hathaway, asking for clarification:
You should probably clarify yourself a bit. Are you saying that I
can’t use my OU email account to forward political articles to my
friends, or that I can’t post political commentary to a blog or
website from an OU computer lab? Because if that’s what you’re
saying, you’re going to have a lawsuit on your hands very quickly.
(In retrospect, the lawsuit line probably came out wrong; I didn’t mean it as a threat, just as an observation about the likely outcome of that level of overreach on limiting political speech.)
Here’s his reply (in full, the ellipses are his):
Thanks Jason. It was intended simply to bring attention to an issue related to the proper use of University/State resources … outside of the educational context. Obviously, a lot of the activity at a university is covered within the educational context.
Seems kind of weak, doesn’t it? In the first email, he said that forwarding political email was explicitly forbidden, which makes this appeal to what is and isn’t obvious seem a bit disingenuous.