The University of Washington (UW) is firmly committed and legally bound to permit speech that falls within the broad definition of protected expression and university faculty, postdocs, staff, and students are free and encouraged to engage with the political process by exercising their rights to be politically active as citizens. There are, however, relevant university policies and state law that members of the university community should be aware of before engaging in these activities. The guidelines below summarize these policies and laws to help assist individuals make decisions about how to engage appropriately in political campaigning and other political activities while also being members of the broader university community. If a proposed activity is not discussed in these guidelines, or if there is uncertainty about the permissibility of a proposed activity, contact Stephanie Harrington (stephah@uw.edu, 206-543-0878) in the Dean’s Office or, the Office of Internal Audit (iaudit@uw.edu, 206-543-4028) in advance of engaging that activity in order to obtain appropriate guidance.

Definitions

For the purposes of these guidelines, political campaigning includes any activity to solicit support — financial or otherwise — for or against ballot issues or the election of a person to an office.

Other political activities include, but are not limited to, activities to solicit support — financial or otherwise — for or against legislation, governmental policies, or other political issues.

University resources include, but are not limited to, university funds and purchasing mechanisms, including the Procurement Card; university offices, conference rooms and other spaces and facilities; university vehicles; university copiers, computers and other electronic equipment; university computer networks, websites, social media accounts, e-mail accounts, listservs and mailing lists; university telephones, and voicemail and mail systems; university letterhead, stationery and other office supplies (e.g., pens, toner, paper); and university branding (e.g., logos).

University Employees (including faculty, staff, postdoctoral scholars and student employees)

University employees may not use university resources for personal benefit or gain, or for the benefit or gain of any other individuals or outside organizations. While the use of university resources in support of Political Campaigning is strictly prohibited, some limited (de minimis) personal use of university resources by university employees may be permitted for other political activities, but is generally discouraged.

University employees (including student employees) may not engage in Political Campaigning during work hours.

University staff who wish to attend to personal matters during the workday may do so during their breaks and lunches. Employees who wish to be absent from work during their regular working hours are to request and receive supervisor approval in advance of the absence. Employees who are absent from work during regular working hours will follow the terms of their employment program for such absences, including the use of accrued leave (annual, sick, or personal holiday, as appropriate for the purpose of their absence). Supervisors consider requests for leave based upon the operational needs and staffing levels of the unit, as well as whether the employee requesting leave has adequate leave balances. Additional information about leave is available on the UW HR web site.

When participating in political campaigning or other political activities as a private citizen, university employees should be careful to ensure their participation cannot be interpreted as expressing the position of the University of Washington. Specifically,

  • University employees are free to express their individual and collective political views, provided they understand and make clear that they are not speaking for or in the name of the University of Washington.
  • University employees should make it clear that any reference to their title and affiliation with the university is for identification purposes only.

Students

In keeping with its educational and service mission, and its desire to promote discussion of and participation in political and civic issues, the UW encourages and supports the involvement of students in government and political affairs within the following parameters:

  • Students are free to express their individual and collective political views, provided they understand and make clear that they are not speaking for or in the name of the University of Washington.
  • With the exception of individual student email accounts, personal use of university resources by students in support of Political Campaigning is prohibited. Some limited (de minimis) personal use of university resources by students may be permitted for other political activities, but is generally discouraged.
  • Registered Student Organizations (RSO) may use their resources to support Political Campaigning and other political activities as long as they are in compliance with the RSO Policy Guide.
    • RSOs and other informal student groups may receive permission to use available University facilities for partisan and/or non-partisan political activities, provided that such organizations make the necessary arrangements with appropriate University officials; pay the normal costs, if any, for such use (including any increased security costs); and recognize their obligation to abide by all applicable University rules and regulations.
  • Whenever a RSO or group of students hosts, sponsors, or publicizes a politically-related event, the sponsoring student group must deliver a disclaimer explaining that the use of University facilities or resources for this event does not constitute an endorsement by the UW, the views of those invited to speak on campus are the views of the speaker and not of the UW, and that the UW does not endorse or oppose any candidate or organization.

Resources

Examples

Q:  A professor is asked to sign an online petition to be sent to members of congress supporting federal investment in science by her professional society. Is she allowed to sign the petition and can she identify herself as a professor at the University of Washington.
A:  Yes. She may sign the petition. If the petition includes the blanket statement that affiliations are for identification purposes only, she may also include her title and affiliation with the UW.

Q:  A member of the faculty is invited to participate in a campaign planning meeting for a candidate they are supporting. The meeting is scheduled for 3:00pm and does not conflict with any scheduled teaching responsibilities or departmental obligations. Can they attend the meeting?
A:  Yes. They may engage in political campaigning during what could be considered within “normal working hours” if the activities do not interfere with the performance of any of their other official duties – and if the time is made up within a reasonable period by devoting a comparable number of extra hours to work for the institution. It is strongly recommended that a faculty member in this situation formally tracks this exchange of time in case questions come up later about their participation.

Q:  A member of the staff would like to submit an op-ed to his local newspaper promoting a specific ballot initiative. The deadline for submission is 5:00pm. Can he take his lunch break and use his office computer to complete the draft and submit it to the newspaper?
A:   Yes. And No. He can spend the time during his lunch break to compose and submit the op-ed, but he cannot use his office computer to do so. An alternative solution may be for the employee to work with his supervisor to request leave or formally arrange for an alternate work schedule that would allow him the time he needs to complete the op-ed using his home computer.

Q:  A group of graduate students decide they would like to participate in a public demonstration or protest. Are they allowed to create posters and signs using their department’s office supplies?
A:  No. University resources at this scale cannot be used to support participation in political campaigning, or other political activities by individuals.

Q:  An RSO decides to participate in a public demonstration. Are they allowed to buy supplies to create posters and signs using their RSO budget?
A:  Yes. RSOs may use their resources for anything that is consistent with the purpose and goals of the RSO, including Political Activities, and they are in compliance with the RSO Policy Guide.

Q:  An undergraduate student wants to send an email to the students in her department about a town hall event featuring a candidate who is running for a state-wide office. Can she send an email about the event using a university listserv?
A:  Yes. And No. Students are free to use their individual email accounts and student-created opt-in listservs for political campaigning or other political activities. Departmental listservs should not be used for political campaigning or other political activities.

Q:  What are the criteria for limited (de minimis) personal use of university resources?
A:  Occasional limited personal use of university resources is permitted only if all five of the following conditions are met:

  1. There is little or no cost to the state;
  2. Any use is brief;
  3. Any use occurs infrequently;
  4. The use does not interfere with the performance of any other state employees’ official duties; and
  5. The use does not compromise the security or integrity of state property, information, or software.

The following are examples of permissible personal use of university resources if the use meets the conditions above:

  • Electronic communication with children and dependents.
  • Scheduling personal appointments.
  • Use of games, during breaks, that an employee does not personally install on a University computer.

Dean's Office Contacts: