As campus chapters coalesce, the Office of Federal Relations sent an email to all students, faculty and staff detailing university policy on political campaign activity last week. The university’s status as a non-profit organization prohibits Georgetown from endorsing or opposing candidates for public office and thus limits its ability to use resources for campaign activities.
While many of the enumerated guidelines regarding this policy are in line with federal lobbying disclosure laws and Internal Revenue Service rules, others seem to toe the line between compliance and excessive curtailment.
Georgetown claims to support and encourage political engagement, but the university is doing students a disservice by blocking access to campus resources to political activists.
Students cannot print political flyers or materials using any of the printers on campus, despite the fact that students pay over $48,000 in tuition and five cents per sheet in order to use such equipment. Students many not use their Georgetown email addresses to relay information about campus meetings or group activities related to political candidates.
Reserving spaces on campus — a right granted even to unaffiliated groups whose missions are not aligned with university policy — is prohibited for campaign groups.
Practically speaking, these restrictions make engagement impossible.
While the Office of Federal Relations argues that these restrictions were created to ensure that the university comply with campaign finance laws, other universities and colleges bound under the same restrictions have not limited student activism to the same degree.
Political groups at the University of Wisconsin-Madison are freely allowed to use campus classrooms and meeting spaces, and are able to apply to student government for funding.
Catholic University allows political student organizations to use university meeting spaces. The University of Washington provides unaffiliated groups, including political campaign chapters, with a printing budget, access to other materials, funding opportunities and staff advisors. Clearly, limiting Georgetown students’ political campaigning is not an issue of legality, but one of institutional will.
Debate watches and intellectual exercises are not enough for student campaigners.
Students are mobilizing to vote and act on behalf of the candidates they believe in, whether through fundraising, canvassing, phone-banking or participating in rallies. It is evident that the university has gone beyond compliance with federal law and is unnecessarily blocking students from engaging in meaningful political organization.
Although the university claims that it is not prohibiting students from “participating in political activity in their individual capacity,” restrictions on meeting spaces and use of university equipment effectively quash the ability for students to express their political opinions and associate with others to do the same.
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