Weeks ahead of a crucial midterm election, Grambling State University in Louisiana has banned its students and faculty members from forwarding “campaign solicitations” using the school’s e-mail system, contending it is a violation of Louisiana law because it would amount to an institutional “endorsement” of a campaign.
The ban comes as Louisiana voters prepare to cast ballots in statewide races for lieutenant governor, seven congressional seats and the contested Senate seat held by Republican Sen. David Vitter.
This particular stance is remarkable because it seems to suggest that an email message sent using an address owned by a university automatically implies the university’s endorsement of the contents of that email. This is not true.
FIRE wrote to GSU President Frank G. Pogue on September 1, pointing out that GSU’s policy against forwarding any e-mail containing “campaign solicitations” prohibits political speech at the heart of the First Amendment’s protection of free expression. FIRE’s letter pointed out 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.
Beyond that, the Grambling State policy just seems terribly inefficient. If the school really wanted to avoid the suggestion that it was endorsing any particular candidate wouldn’t it have been a hell of a lot easier to just put one of those “this communication expresses the views of the writer of this email, not the university” templates at the bottom of all school emails?