Political activities policies differ for state employees and students on campus

A voter stuffs his ballot into an envelope before dropping it in the ballot box during a 2016 presidential caucus on Mar. 5, 2016, at Manhattan High School. (Archive Photo by Parker Robb | Collegian Media Group)

Earlier this year, Kansas State reminded faculty and students of political activity guidelines for university employees and students. Sue Peterson, chief government relations officer and assistant to the president, said she hasn’t seen anyone break the policy in her tenure at K-State.

Peterson said the school actively educates employees on what they are allowed — and not allowed — to do.

The policies at K-State include guidelines from the Kansas Department of Administration, Kansas Board of Regents and additional university policies.

Kirsten Novotny, senior in animal sciences and president of the K-State Young Democrats, said she has not experienced any university employee trying to push political ideas while attending K-State.

“Personally I have not. Since I’m not on the poli sci side of campus, I don’t know if that would differ on that end,” Novotny said.

Joshua Willis, senior in political science and secretary of the College Republicans at Kansas State University, agreed with Novotny.

When it comes to students, Peterson said other than campaigning on state property, there are fewer restrictions for activities on campus.

Students do not have the same restrictions because they pay to be here and are not employees, Peterson said.

“There are state laws, Board of Regents policies, there are university policies,” she said. “The law does not speak to students because they are not employees of the state.”

The KDA guidelines forbid state employees from using their influence or power of authority to persuade another employee to contribute to an organization or activity. Employees are also not allowed to use public funds, work time, equipment or supplies to promote for a state or local office candidate.

The Board of Regents policy states employees can freely express a political opinion, but cannot speak for the university. Campus facilities are not allowed to be used for raising funds or filming partisan political advertisements for any party or candidate.

Willis and Novotny both said their organization members show respect for the policies.

“The policies haven’t really affected us in any way,” Novotny said. “People this year have been very respectful with the policies.”

Jonathan Smith, junior in criminology and president of College Republicans, said the club reviews the policies often so members are aware of them.

Peterson said she received fewer than ten complaints in the past year about things such as items in dorm rooms, though posters in rooms or bumper stickers do not violate any policies.

However, Peterson said political slogans on masks are something for state employees to be mindful of, using the famous political slogan, “I Like Ike,” as an example.

“‘Ike” is not a candidate for anything … it wouldn’t be violating any laws,” she said.

However, a current candidate on a mask could be considered violating campaigning on state property. When it comes to chalking on campus, Peterson said clubs are allowed to do so as long as there are no official candidates mentioned.

Both the Young Democrats and College Republicans said they can’t publicly endorse candidates due to their affiliation with K-State.

“Since I am a chapter president, I work very closely with Kansas Young Dems and we are able to [endorse] candidates through them,” Novotny said.

Peterson said the challenge is finding the line between a person’s rights and where the university has to enforce the laws in place.

“Be smart and if you have any questions just contact my office … and we will make sure that everybody has the ability to express themselves within the law and policy,” Peterson said.