General University Reference Utility
The Pennsylvania State University (“University”) is committed to the principle of free expression, including the exchange of political viewpoints and ideas, for all members of its community. The University encourages its students and employees to fully participate in their rights of citizenship, including exercising the right to vote, campaign, and otherwise engage in the political life of our community, state and nation. Nothing in this Policy is intended to limit the rights of students or employees to express personal opinions or engage in political activity in their individual capacities and as private citizens.
However, certain types of politically-related activities by the University or by University employees, in their official capacities, are incompatible with the University’s tax-exempt status under the law. This Policy describes the limitations on University involvement and the use of University resources in political campaign activities.
This Policy shall apply to all University employees and students at all locations, including those within University Extension. This Policy does not apply to permissible lobbying and public policy education efforts.
Political Candidate: an individual who has publicly announced an intention to be a candidate for election to any public office or is being promoted publicly to join a race and become an official candidate. An incumbent public official is not a political candidate until he/she has publicly announced an intention to run for reelection or another public office.
Political Event: an event at which a political candidate or political organization speaks or is prominently featured; includes any event that has the purpose or primary effect of promoting the election of a particular political candidate (e.g., debate, speech, rally). A classroom presentation by a political candidate or political organization at the request of the instructor of a credit or non-credit course of the University is not a political event if the speaker is chosen solely for reasons other than candidacy for public office.
Political Organization: A political campaign organization, political party, political action committee, so-called “section 527 organization,” or similar organization that supports a political candidate or the views of a political candidate.
University Resources: all University property and services such as facilities/space, office equipment, telephones, email, postage, vehicles, University name, logo, and other Marks, letterhead, and technology resources such as websites and online discussion boards.
University Sponsor: a University college, school, center, academic department, administrative unit, or university-affiliated organization (not including recognized student organizations).
It is the University’s policy that it, and its employees and representatives, when acting in their official capacities for the University, may not, directly or indirectly, participate in, or intervene in, any political campaign on behalf of, or in opposition to, any candidate for elective public office. This includes campaigns at the federal, state, and local level.
Political campaign intervention extends beyond candidate endorsements, it includes any and all activities that favor or oppose one or more candidates for political office. For example, the University and its employees, may not engage in the following activities in their official capacity or on behalf of the University: solicit or make contributions to political campaign funds; make public statements of position in favor or in opposition to any candidate for public office (in written or oral form, including links to websites); distribute statements prepared by others that favor or oppose any candidate for public office (in written or oral form, including links to websites); or allow a candidate to use the University’s resources without providing other candidates with an equivalent opportunity. Similarly, Students and Recognized Student Organizations are also prohibited from using appropriations from the University Student Activity Fees to contribute to a political campaign.
Voter education and registration activities are not prohibited by this Policy so long as they are carried out in a non-partisan manner and do not favor or oppose any of the candidates for elective public office. Furthermore, the University may host political forums and/or debates involving more than one candidate provided no candidate, directly or indirectly, receives an endorsement, preference, or support from the University. Finally, this Policy is not intended to limit non-partisan courses, coursework, curricular activities and other assignments designed to foster civic engagement, educate students, or enhance public understanding of the political election process.
Inviting Political Candidates to Campus
The University shall not endorse or oppose any partisan political candidate for elected public office. The University may, however, provide opportunities to educate its students, employees and community at large on the election process through candidate lectures, forums, debates and other political discourse. As an institution or through a University Sponsor, the University may hold certain political events subject to the following terms:
- Approval. A political event may be sponsored by a college, school, center, academic department or administrative unit of the University only with the approval of the Vice President of Government and Community Relations, who may consult with the Office of General Counsel and the Vice President for Strategic Communications.
- Format. A University-Sponsored Political Event must be in the format of a candidate forum or debate, question-and-answer sessions, or similar communications in an academic setting; such events cannot be conducted as a campaign rally or similar event. All legally qualified candidates for a political office must be invited to participate on an equal basis with such limitations as may be appropriate after consultation with the Office of General Counsel.
- Use of University Resources. University facilities may be made available for such events in accordance with this and all other applicable University policies. Receptions and other social activities associated with this event must include all candidates who were invited to participate in the political event.
- Publicity. All promotional material for political events must include appropriate statements indicating that the University, the University-Sponsor, and University officials do not endorse any political candidate or political organization or any position of a political candidate or political organization. Subject to this restriction, University officers may otherwise publicize the event in any appropriate manner and encourage or arrange for coverage by media organization, including University media.
- Costs, Expenses, Fees and Honoraria. The University-Sponsor must pay all facility charges and ancillary service costs associated with the event, including but not limited to custodial, parking, equipment setup and operation, and security. No compensation, honorarium, or expenses may be paid to or on behalf of any political candidate or political organization.
- No admission fee may be charged for such events.
- No political fundraising activities may be conducted at such events.
Inviting Individuals in their Non-Candidate Capacity
The abovementioned terms and conditions do not apply when an individual is invited by the University in their official capacity (e.g., as a sitting public official, field expert, public figure/celebrity) and not in their capacity as a political candidate. For such events, a non-partisan atmosphere should be maintained and the individual must only speak in their non-candidate capacity and make no reference to the election. Communications regarding the event should indicate the capacity in which the individual is appearing and should not mention the individual’s candidacy or the election.
B. By Recognized Student Organizations (RSOs)
Inviting Political Candidates to Campus
Recognized Student Organizations seeking to sponsor a political event on campus must do so in accordance with the policies and procedures established by Student Affairs for student organization-sponsored events in general.
- Approval and Notice. The sponsorship must be approved by the organization’s leadership and advisor (if applicable), and the Office of Government and Community Relations must be notified prior to reserving campus facilities for the event.
- Use of University Resources. University facilities may be made available for such events in accordance with this and all other applicable University policies.
- Publicity. Promotional materials for the political event may not state or imply that the University endorses a political candidate or political organization or any position of the candidate or organization.
- Costs and Expenses. The sponsoring RSO is responsible for all facility charges and ancillary service costs associated with the event, including but not limited to custodial, parking, equipment setup and operation, and security. For information about permissible use of appropriations from the Student Activity Fee, please see the Student Activity Fee Handbook.
- University Indicia (name, marks, logos, etc…) may be used to identify the location of such an event but not in such a way as to suggest that the event is officially endorsed or sponsored by the University.
Other Political Campaign Activities
Students and RSOs are encouraged to help educate and inform students about elections, including urging students to exercise their right to vote, and are also free to express their views about political parties, candidates and ballot issues. Students and RSOs are permitted to use student activities fees to support their own expressive activities and viewpoints on public policy issues and other interests and, as noted above, may sponsor events for candidates so long as they comply with the rules and regulations governing student organization-sponsored events.
However, funds from the University Student Activity Fee may not be used in such a way that could constitute a gift, donation or contribution to a political campaign. This includes purchasing promotional material (not including materials used to promote an RSO-sponsored event) or paying for campaign advertising for a political candidate or organization, providing an honorarium or travel costs to a political candidate or organization, or otherwise contributing to a political campaign.
C. By External, Non-University Individuals or Groups
D. By University Employees
University employees and representatives, in their official capacities for the University, may not participate or intervene, directly or indirectly, in any political campaign on behalf of, or in opposition to, any candidate for public office. University employees and representatives are also prohibited from using any University resources (e.g., facilities, funds, vehicles, copy machines, e-mail, telephones, office supplies, mailing services) for partisan political campaign activities, unless expressly permitted in this Policy. This includes use of University seal, letterhead, symbols, or other proprietary Marks of the University in any communication or activity that endorses a political party, campaign, or candidate.
University employees and representatives may, in their capacity as a private citizen, make any partisan political statement, provided they clearly indicate that they are expressing a personal view and are not speaking for, or on behalf of, the University. Furthermore, nothing in this Policy is intended to limit or prohibit an employee’s ability, in their personal capacity and outside of work hours, to become a member in any political party, vote in any election, make personal contributions to a political candidate or organization, or otherwise participate in a political campaign.
This Policy is also not intended to limit public partisan statements made by University employees outside of their official capacity, the scholarly research of University faculty members or the dissemination of factual material and scholarship.
The Office of Strategic Communication, the Office of the Vice President of Administration, and the Office of Government and Community Relations must be notified prior to the visit of any political candidate (whether the visit is at the request of the University, a University Sponsor, a Recognized Student Organization, or a Non-University Group renting University Facilities) to any campus. For visits to the Commonwealth Campuses, the campus Chancellor or Chief Executive must also be notified.
Visits by political candidates and political dignitaries to the University Park campus shall be coordinated by the Office of Government and Community Relations. Visits by political candidates and political dignitaries to the Commonwealth Campuses shall be coordinated by the campus Chancellor or Chief Executive, in consultation with the Office of Government and Community Relations and the Office of Strategic Communications.
Campus visits by a State or Federal government official in their official work capacity, and not in their role as a political candidate or an invited speaker, should be handled in accordance with University Policy AD50, “Contact with State and Federal officials and Official Request from Government Officials”.
Pursuant to existing University policy, University employees may campaign for any public office without modification to the terms and condition of their University status if the campaign does not interfere (as determined by officers of the University) with the performance of the employee’s assigned University duties. While engaging in such campaign activities, the employee’s relationship to the University may not be directly or indirectly exploited. For more information on the responsibilities and limitations on campaigning for, and appointment to, public office while remaining an employee of the University, please see University Policy HR35, “Public Service and Political Endorsements by Members of the Faculty and Staff”.
For questions, additional detail, or to request changes to this Policy, please contact the Office of General Counsel.
AD01 - Auditoriums, Policies and Procedures for Use of University Athletic and Entertainment Facilities
AD02 - Non-University Groups Using University Facilities
AD15 - Fees and Rates for Facilities and Services
AD21 - Use of the Agricultural Arena and Agricultural Progress Days Facilities
AD50 - Contact with State and Federal Officials and Official Requests From Government Officials
AD51 - Use of Outdoor Areas for Expressive Activities
AD57 - General Regulations on Use of University Property
AD77 - Engaging in Outside Professional Activities (Conflict of Commitment)
FN14 - Use of Tangible Assets, Equipment, Supplies and Services
HR35 - Public Service and Political Endorsements by Members of the Faculty and Staff
HR64 - Academic Freedom
Most recent changes:
Revision History (and effective dates):