The Ohio State professor who asked faculty members to open their classrooms to organizers from President Barack Obama’s re-election campaign has spoken up about the claims against him in light of a university review.
According to an email from OSU Executive Vice President and Provost Joseph Alutto, a professor sent a message to his colleagues encouraging them to invite Obama organizers to speak in their classrooms about voting in the upcoming election. University President E. Gordon Gee received an email regarding an article published in The Chronicle of Higher Education about the situation.
While the email did not specifically name the professor, the article identified him as Brian McHale, an arts and humanities distinguished professor of English, who has been teaching at the university for nearly 11 years.
In the email to faculty, Alutto said the university legal counsel has determined that faculty must not participate in partisan politics, which includes “inviting political organizers into our classroom.”
“Simply put, partisan political discussions may not be sponsored by university employees on the Ohio State campus,” Alutto said. “I urge you to refer to the guidelines regarding political activity by employees of the university.”
In a copy of his message on the The Chronicle of Higher Education, he passed along a message to fellow faculty about inviting representatives from the Obama campaign into their classrooms to register students to vote.
“If you were willing, they would send along a volunteer to make a pitch to your students about registering to vote,” the message said. “This would involve five minutes or less of class time, at the beginning or end of class (whichever you preferred), and the volunteer could make him/herself available after the end of class to sign up students who wanted to register on the spot.”
The message said that the representatives could talk to students about volunteering with the campaign, but said if “you weren’t comfortable with this, however, you’d only need to say so, and the volunteer would limit his/her presentation to voter registration, and leave the recruitment pitch out; it would be your call.”
McHale closed his message by reiterating the importance of voter registration, and said, “Democracy: love it or lose it.”
In a Thursday email to The Lantern, McHale called his send off “a corny sentiment, I’ll admit, but I’ll stand behind it.”
McHale, however, was not under the impression he was violating any university rules.
“I believed I was within my rights to recommend to my faculty colleagues the voter registration drive being conducted on campus by the Obama campaign,” McHale said in an email.
McHale said that he is planning to comply with university action.
“Yesterday I was informed by Dean (Joseph) Steinmetz (vice provost for the Arts and Sciences and executive dean of the College of Arts and Sciences) that by doing so I was violating university guidelines, and so of course I’ll comply with those guidelines in (the) future,” he said in an email. “I continue to believe that registering students to vote is simply good citizenship, and I hope that OSU students will seize the opportunities being offered by various groups on campus to get themselves registered for the general election.”
An email statement to The Lantern from university spokeswoman Liz Cook outlined university policy on the issue.
“While The Ohio State University encourages its faculty, staff and students to participate in civic engagement and productive citizenship, partisan political discussions or activities by employees are not permitted nor tolerated on university time,” the email said.
Cook said in an email that “the university is conducting an active review of this case and will address the situation appropriately to ensure that our campus remains an environment for impartial discourse.”
Some OSU students said they have in the past had professors encourage them to vote, but that many were careful to explicitly state they would not try to influence their political leanings.
“I’ve noticed teachers will actually dodge responding in a way that supports one viewpoint,” said Ian Oglesbee, a third-year in genetics.
Others said they have never felt politically pressured by faculty, even when their personal political attitudes were visible to students.
“I’ve had teachers where it’s obvious what their political stance is, but it was never pushed,” said Megan Strathearn, a graduate student in education technology.
Some said they wouldn’t feel comfortable if they felt politically pressured in the classroom.
“I can think for myself. I think if a teacher pushes an agenda, you might be inclined to think that way, but we are old enough to make our own decisions,” said Larry Donovan, a second-year in computer science engineering.
According to an Associated Press polls released last week, Obama leads 50-44 over Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney in the Ohio polls. The random survey of Ohio residents was taken earlier this month.
Obama kicked off his re-election campaign at the Schottenstein Center on May 5, and made his most recent trip to Columbus Aug. 21 for a campaign speech at Capital University.
Romney spoke Thursday night at the Republican National Convention. He made a Central Ohio campaign stop Saturday in Powell, Ohio, a city about 30 minutes away from campus.
Evan Speyer contributed to this article