Faculty Considerations for the Spring Semester (SVPP COVID-19 Communication #23)


Date:            January 22, 2021

To:                Iowa State University Faculty

From:           Jonathan Wickert                                              

                     Senior Vice President and Provost

Subject:       Faculty Considerations for the Spring Semester (SVPP COVID-19 Communication #23)

With the transition to a new federal administration and the beginning of the 2021 Iowa legislative session, I am writing with information related to the separation of personal and professional political speech, Iowa State University’s syllabus statement, resources for faculty who may be subjected to trolling or doxing.

Separation of personal and professional political advocacy

As citizens, all Iowa State University employees have full rights to participate in the political process, including voicing support for, or opposition to, candidates, state and federal legislation, and legal issues involving government entities. However, employees—especially faculty and administrative leaders—should not imply that their personal views represent those of the university.  If there could be questions or ambiguity as to whether you are speaking (or writing) individually or on behalf of Iowa State, please clarify that you are speaking (or writing) individually.

Political advocacy on behalf of the university and the university’s strategic priorities must be approved through the Office of the President, and subsequently through the Board of Regents’ Governmental Relations Office.  Please keep in mind that the President, in coordination with the Board of Regents, determines ISU’s legislative priorities and presents that information to individual legislators.

The use of university computers, e-mail accounts, and telephones for personal political advocacy is not permitted, lest the public incorrectly infer that the institution endorses the position, or that state resources are being improperly used.  Faculty who are personally involved in political advocacy should, for instance, use a non-ISU computer and email account (such as Gmail or iCloud), perform such advocacy on personal time, and use a home address in communication rather than a university office address.

Inquiries regarding state legislative matters should be directed to Carolann Jensen, State Relations Officer, at 515-250-2585 or cjensen3@iastate.edu. Inquiries regarding federal legislative matters should be directed to Sophia Magill, Director of Government Relations, at 515-294-2320 or smagill@iastate.edu.

Ensuring discussions are germane to courses

Another area for consideration is the use of classroom time for political discussions or activity. Please take care to ensure that any such discussions are germane to the curriculum of a course, and avoid guest speakers, voter registration drives, discussions of candidates, or other activities that may be perceived as partisan in nature without providing similar opportunities for members of the campus community having other viewpoints.

Free expression syllabus statement

Academic freedom safeguards the right of faculty to discuss controversial subjects or issues in their classrooms according to professional standards and for topics that are germane to the subject matter of the course. Students have the right to discuss those controversial topics and share competing views, and faculty may limit discussion to topics germane to the course.

As you know, Iowa State University adopted a new required syllabus statement that affirms existing law and policy, and our commitment to student free expression. This statement was developed in consultation with the Faculty Senate Executive Board, and is available on the CELT website. This statement was used in the recently completed Winter Session, and is to be used verbatim for all Spring semester courses. Students will receive a reminder in Canvas to review the syllabus statements for all of their courses, including the new statement on free expression. Based in part on feedback received from faculty in multiple colleges who taught during the Winter Session, we have developed an FAQ which provides additional information.

Faculty resources for trolling and doxing

Over the past few years, some scholars at colleges and universities across the nation, including Iowa State University, have been subjected to online trolling (deliberately following and provoking others online, often with offensive content) and doxing (publishing private or other identifying information with malicious intent) related to their scholarly activities. Such actions can have a profound negative impact personally and professionally, and can raise important concerns about safety.

We have developed a safety resource document to help scholars, departments, and colleges understand and manage these situations, and leverage the expertise of other units on campus for support.

I ask that department chairs share the information in this communication with graduate student instructors and teaching assistants, as well as staff engaged in instruction.