The University of Wisconsin-Madison, in claiming President Barack Obama’s visit to the campus on Thursday is an official visit and not a campaign rally, may be violating Wisconsin state law.
The law prohibits the use of public resources to assist candidates in campaigning. And an official university website acted as a portal to the Obama campaign webpage, where students have to give phone numbers and e-mails to the Obama campaign to attend the rally.
The University of Wisconsin-Madison is claiming Obama’s visit on Thursday is an “official Presidential visit” because Chancellor David Ward will greet Obama in a private meeting prior to the rally.
Wisconsin State Representative Steve Nass (R-Whitewater), who is the Chairman of the Assembly Committee on Colleges and Universities, though, said “UW-Madison officials are using public resources including the university’s official website to assist in the logistics and turnout efforts for an Obama campaign rally.”
He said he would seek all records related to the event.
“Once again, the partisan nature of UW-Madison is on display and they just don’t care,” Nass said.
Wisconsin University professors were already upset that students who wanted to attend Obama’s campaign rally on the campus had to provide personal information — like phone numbers and e-mail addresses — to the campaign and click an “I’m in” button on an Obama campaign website that was linked on the university’s website, which served as a portal to Obama’s campaign website.
Ken Mayer, a political science professor at the university, wrote in a letter to administrators that while this was standard operating procedure for a campaign event, universities should not force “students to declare their support for a presidential candidate in order to attend the event.”
“We are forcing them to become participants in the campaign and express their support for the campaign,” Mayer wrote.
Mayer, along with law professor Ann Althouse and political science professor Donald Downs, publicly criticized university officials.
“Should we be in the business of helping a campaign farm thousands of email addresses?,” Mayer asked. “It is not a Presidential visit. It is not a Presidential speech. It is a campaign event.”
Mayer also said the location of the rally “could not be more disruptive.”
“It hardly seems appropriate to shut the central campus down for an entire day, closing offices and seriously disrupting our mission,” Mayer said. “I have several colleagues who had scheduled exams for Thursday.”
What angered Mayer the most was the university forced “classified staff” “to take a vacation or personal day, arrange to work at another location on campus, or work at home.”
“The UW is penalizing staff (or, at a minimum, dramatically inconveniencing them) for an even that they had no say in organizing or scheduling,” Mayer wrote. “That’s wrong.”
Vince Sweeney, the vice chancellor for university relations, told the Wisconsin State Journal that the university does not manage the Obama campaign link and the university was not “collecting that information.”
“Ultimately if it’s a problem for those wishing to attend, it’s an individual decision,” he said.
Nass, though, said “UW-Madison calling this an official Presidential visit is nothing short of dishonest and insulting to the intelligence of Wisconsin citizens.”
“It appears that UW-Madison is providing both direct and indirect support to the Obama Campaign despite state law and university policies prohibiting such actions,” Nass said.