University bans political e-mails

September 21, 2010

Officials at Grambling State University in Grambling, La., have dispatched an e-mail to students warning them against forwarding certain political e-mails they may get on the school e-mail system, because they could violate "state policy."

The issue is being highlighted by the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, which monitors educational institutions for violations of civil rights.

"As the national dialogue increasingly focuses on the upcoming elections, administrators at Grambling State have made the unconstitutional decision to shut down the conversation on campus," said Robert Shibley, the organization’s senior vice president.

"The First Amendment protects such core political expression, and as a public university, GSU cannot lawfully prevent students and faculty from speaking their minds about the electoral choices facing our country," he said.

It was an e-mail from GSU’s Office of Media Relations that started the problem.

"Individuals who receive political campaign solicitations via university e-mail are advised to delete these e-mails upon receipt," said the e-mail. "DO NOT FORWARD campaign solicitations using university e-mail as this implies your support for the candidate and may be viewed as utilizing university resources for solicitation purposes, a violation of … state policy," according to FIRE.

The school today told WND that legal advisers were working on a statement, but it was not ready.

FIRE said it had contacted GSU President Frank Pogue, explaining that under well-established First Amendment precedents, a public university "may not broadly deny its students and faculty members the right to engage in such basic political speech as political campaign solicitations."

Grambling e-mail

FIRE officials said they explained the Louisiana Constitution, which provides that even a member of the most restricted class of state employees may "exercise his right as a citizen to express his opinion privately."

The organization argued that "there is little chance that a reasonable person would assume that the sender is speaking on behalf of the university."

"The only thing worse than GSU’s blanket ban on political e-mails is the school’s erroneous claim that it is required to do so under state law," said Will Creeley, FIRE’s director of legal and public advocacy. "GSU cannot censor all political e-mails out of a misguided fear that clearly private e-mails somehow imply institutional support. GSU must reverse the ban and clarify to students and faculty that they are free to engage in political speech via e-mail as long as they do not claim to be speaking for the school."

The organization said it had not received a response from the school.

Schools: Grambling State University Cases: Grambling State University: Ban on Core Political Expression