BISMARCK — The State Board of Higher Education is mulling changes to its political activities policy before the upcoming 2020 election.
The Board’s Governance Committee discussed the policy during its regular meeting Wednesday, Sept. 18, but the three-person committee split the vote with one abstention. The policy will now go before the full board next week without any recommendation.
The policy would substantially rewrite the former 1984 policy surrounding political activity and defines the allowable and unallowable politically oriented activities for SBHE members, North Dakota University System faculty, staff and students and politically oriented student organizations.
This policy differs from the free speech policies adopted at the NDUS’ campuses earlier this year.
During the past legislative session, Senate Bill 2320 directed the SBHE and university system’s institutions to adopt free speech policies by Aug. 27. All 11 colleges and universities made the deadline, NDUS reported last week.
Vice Chancellor of Academic Affairs Lisa Johnson said that the policies protect free speech and freedom of expression for everyone on the campuses.
“While there have been no reported violations of First Amendment rights among NDUS campuses, we supported the legislative bill in anticipation of heightened public interest around these fundamental human rights,” Johnson said.
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The policy discussed Wednesday is meant to further protect and explain the rights of students, faculty and staff at the University System.
The policy notes that politically oriented student organizations cannot use institution funds to support, advance or oppose a political party, candidate or political or policy position. But the policy does not restrict a politically oriented student organization from engaging in fundraising activities or receiving money from any outside person or organization.
One of the biggest areas of student concern relayed to the committee was the policy surrounding uniforms. Committee member Nick Hacker also asked questions about the policy area.
The policy states that official school or team uniforms may not be worn to political gatherings, rallies or demonstrations. Official school identification may not be used in promotional materials for any candidate as well. But the policy would not restrict the wearing of casual clothing bearing an institution’s logo or slogans. So, UND football players would not be able to wear their team-issued jerseys to a political rally, but they could wear a casual shirt depicting a UND logo.
“In my mind, the official uniform of a sports team or an athletic team would be the one that’s worn on the field and not any sort of casual coverings or things like that that would go along with it,” SBHE attorney Eric Olson said.
The organizations also can use spaces on campus to host their meetings so long as those opportunities are available to all politically oriented organizations.
The policy also addresses social media and email throughout, noting that university-related accounts cannot be used to promote a certain candidate, party or stance.