Use of University Facilities for Political Activities

Revised August 2012

Introduction

Northwestern University’s status as a tax-exempt organization under Section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code prohibits it from participating or intervening in any political campaign on behalf of (or in opposition to) any candidate for public office.

Notwithstanding these limitations, Northwestern University recognizes that students, faculty, and staff may wish to participate in the political process and that such participation may, in fact, contain an educational component. Northwestern adheres to the principle enunciated by the American Council on Education (ACE) in 1970 that “every member of the academic community has a right to participate or not, as he [or she] sees fit, in the election process. On the other hand, no member of that community should speak or act in the name of the institution in a political campaign.” 

The following statement of policy and the accompanying guidelines regarding the use of University facilities for political activities, as amended, are being reissued to provide guidance in adhering to these fundamental principles.

Political Policy

It is the policy of Northwestern University not to participate in, directly or indirectly, or to intervene in (including by means of the publishing or distributing of statements) any political campaign on behalf of or in opposition to any candidate for public office.

Recognized student organizations may reserve University facilities, including lecture halls, outdoor reservable space, and any other space available to all recognized student groups, to conduct organizational meetings or to host, sponsor and/or publicize an event on behalf of a candidate. However, no organization or individual may:

  1. Use the name or seal of the University or any of its schools or other units on letters or other written materials intended for support of a political campaign on behalf of or in opposition to any candidate for public office, including the solicitation of funds for such purpose or activities. This includes a prohibition on use of University letterhead, envelopes, email accounts, telephone lines and voicemail systems for communication. This also includes prohibition of soliciting funds in the name of the University (or in the name of a University student organization) to be used in off-campus political intervention or participation. 
  2. Use University facilities (for purposes of this policy, individual student rooms in University housing facilities are not considered to be “University facilities”) to raise funds through admissions, fees, contributions, donations, or sale of materials or services to benefit a political party, campaign, or candidate. 
  3. Use University funds (including student fees) to purchase promotional material, pay for campaign ads or contribute in any way to a political campaign. 
  4. Use University funds (including student fees) to pay honoraria or cover transportation, A/V services, accommodation or meal expenses, or any other costs for candidates for public office or for speakers and presenters at an event on behalf of a candidate. 
  5. Use University resources, including but not limited to, mail distribution services, the University seal or other identifying marks, stationery and letterhead, facsimile and duplicating machines, email accounts, telephone lines, and voicemail systems for political campaigns or solicitation of endorsement of, or opposition to, candidates for public office.
  6. Use University property for the placement of signs (including flyers, banners, posters, stickers, and chalking) of endorsement of, or opposition to, candidates for public office.
  7. Host a campaign rally at University facilities.

Additional guidelines for student organization events on behalf of a candidate

The following additional requirements apply for recognized student organizations that reserve University facilities to host, sponsor and/or publicize an event on behalf of a candidate:

  1. At the beginning of the event the sponsoring student organization should deliver the following disclaimer: "This event is sponsored by _____________. The use of Northwestern University facilities for this event does not constitute an endorsement by the University. The views of those invited to speak on campus are the views of the speaker and not of Northwestern University.  Northwestern University does not endorse or oppose any candidate or organization in connection with this or any other political campaign or election."
  2. Any communications advertising the event must contain the following disclaimer language: "This event is sponsored by _____________. The use of Northwestern University facilities for this event does not constitute an endorsement by the University.  Northwestern University does not endorse or oppose any candidate or organization in connection with this or any other political campaign or election."  Event announcements must not contain explicit or implicit endorsements or opposition of a candidate for public office. The use of University email accounts to send mass emails in support or opposition of a candidate is not permitted.  The name of the sponsoring student organization must be clearly stated on all material advertising the event.
  3. The sponsoring student organization is responsible for communicating these guidelines to the speakers at the event (including the political candidate if applicable) to ensure awareness of and compliance with the University’s Political Policy.
  4. Use of University facilities for candidate debates are subject to the “Guidelines for Use of Facilities for Political Forums or Debates” below.

Guidelines for use of facilities for political forums or debates

The Internal Revenue Code permits tax-exempt organizations to sponsor political forums, candidate speeches, and/or debates provided no candidate either directly or indirectly receives an endorsement, preference, or support from the University. Only recognized student organizations may use University facilities to host, sponsor and/or publicize an event on behalf of a single candidate, subject to the guidelines set forth above. Any other University organization (such as University Departments or Administrative Units) may only sponsor political forums or debates. Where recognized University organizations (including student organizations) sponsor political forums or debates, the following guidelines apply:

  1. The agenda for the forum or debate should address a wide range of issues and be of significant interest to members of the University community.
  2. A non-partisan individual should serve as moderator and ensure that all ground rules are followed.
  3. The moderator should state, at the beginning and conclusion of the program, that the views expressed by the participants are their own and not those of the university, and that sponsorship of the forum is not intended as an endorsement of any particular candidate.
  4. Participants should be allotted equal time in which to present their views and ideas. Selection criteria for participation must be non-partisan.
  5. While all forums should be of a non-biased educational nature, when a primary election serves as the basis for the forum or debate, intra-party debates are permissible. However, where a general election serves as the basis for the forum or debate, sponsorship of an intra-party debate may give the appearance of party favoritism, thereby making such an activity inappropriate.
  6. Regarding intra-party debates for a primary election, all candidates for nomination by the party being represented at the forum should be allowed to participate. In such debates, however, sponsors are not required to involve candidates not belonging to the represented party.
  7. Where a general election is the underlying contest for a forum or debate, a non-partisan candidate debate is permissible provided that at least two candidates participate, and the forum or debate does not promote or advance one candidate over another. Criteria for determining participation must, likewise, be non-partisan.
  8. Political forums or debates need not include every group or party, or individual seeking election. For example, forums or debates limited to mainstream parties are permissible.
  9. At the beginning of each political forum, candidate speech or debate, a representative of the sponsoring group or organization should deliver the following disclaimer: "This event is sponsored by _____________. The use of Northwestern University facilities for this event does not constitute an endorsement by the University. Northwestern University does not endorse or oppose any candidate or organization in connection with this or any other political campaign or election."