Political Activity on Campus

In anticipation of the 2020 election cycle and upcoming Iowa legislative session, many faculty and staff members have sought additional information about their rights and responsibilities, as employees of the state, in engaging in campaign related activities. The information below provides guidance to help faculty and staff better understand this timely issue.

Additional resources

Guidance on Political Campaign Activities

Iowa State University supports the full freedom of its faculty and staff, within the law, to express their personal opinions regarding political candidates and political issues.  As state employees, however, faculty and staff are responsible for appropriately utilizing state resources and for making it clear that their opinions are their own and that they do not speak on behalf of the University.  As such, ISU faculty and staff may participate fully in political activities provided they are acting on their own behalf and using their own personal time and personal resources.  

Iowa Campaign Finance laws prohibit public institutions and anyone acting for a public institution from using public moneys or public resources for political purposes, including to support or oppose a candidate or expressly advocating the passage or defeat of a ballot issue.  Accordingly, faculty and staff may freely engage in political activities so long as they do not use University resources and do not say or imply they are speaking for or on behalf of the University.  

Examples of political activities that use public resources in a manner that is generally prohibited include but are not limited to:

  • Engaging in political campaign activities during work time.
  • Sending out a campaign mailing on University stationery or postage purchased by the University.
  • Using an official University e-mail list or listserv to campaign for or against a ballot initiative or candidate.
  • Using University equipment to copy material supporting or opposing a ballot initiative or candidate.
  • Using University-provided telephone, computer, e-mail address, social media account, etc., to support or oppose a ballot initiative or candidate.
  • Purporting to carry on a political campaign in the name of the University or purporting to speak on behalf of the University when supporting or opposing a candidate or ballot initiative.
  • Holding a fundraising event or campaigning event in support or opposition of a candidate or ballot initiative in University office space or other facility.

Certain activities may be permissible or prohibited based on the full context of the activity.  For example:

  • As detailed more fully in the Faculty Handbook, academic freedom includes the freedom to discuss all relevant matters in the classroom, including relevant political matters.  Political topics may certainly be introduced into classroom discussions and in other instruction so long as appropriate regard is given to context and the subject of the class. The classroom environment should not be used to solicit support for personal views and opinions and should remain a place where students feel free to express different and contrary views with respect to content and issues relevant to the course.  
  • Generally, a faculty or staff member may wear a campaign button in one’s individual capacity to work, however, if the faculty/staff member says or if the context implies that they are speaking on behalf of the University, this may raise concerns. Faculty/staff should consider the context in which they seek to wear the campaign button and ask whether a person could reasonably interpret the button to appear to imply University endorsement of a candidate or ballot initiative.  
  • Iowa law generally prohibits the placement of campaign signs on property owned by the state, including University property (68A.406). Campaign signage on or within University buildings may inappropriately suggest University endorsement of a candidate or ballot initiative. Accordingly, displaying campaign signs on or within University buildings is generally prohibited. In addition, Iowa law (721.2) and university policy generally prohibits employees from using University property for a private purpose. With respect to a staff/faculty member’s individual workspace, displaying political messages may be permissible so long as the political message is not conspicuously visible to the public or to public areas and is not affixed to university-owned equipment. For example, a political message posted on a faculty or staff member’s outward-facing window or door facing a public space would be problematic. Similarly, a political sticker posted on a university-owned laptop would be problematic.  Faculty and staff should also consider whether displaying such political messages may adversely affect the expression of diverse or contrary opinion in their classes/workspaces.  The display of bumper stickers on privately-owned vehicles parked in University parking facilities does not raise concerns about improper or illegal political campaign activities.