Frequently Asked Questions: Political Activity at the University

Q1: Can the University participate in political campaign activity? 

A1: No. The University, as a tax-exempt organization under § 501 (c) (3) of the Internal Revenue Code, is prohibited from engaging in certain campaign-related activities.  Specifically, the University is prohibited from endorsing candidates, making donations to political campaigns, engaging in political fundraising, distributing statements on behalf of a candidate or party, and directly or indirectly engaging in any political campaign activities on behalf of or against any candidate or group of candidates.  These prohibitions apply to candidates for federal, state, and local offices.

Q2: Can the University encourage, and hold “get out the vote” activities? 

A2: Yes, as long as such activities are conducted in a non-partisan manner. For example, hosting or presenting public forums and publishing voter education guides to encourage, enable, and inform the democratic process are permissible if such activities are conducted in a non-partisan manner.

Q3: Can signs be placed, or images projected on University property (or other spaces while in use for University purposes) in support of a particular candidate?

A3: No. The placement of text (e.g., signs or images) in support of any candidate(s) on University structures or in spaces while in use for University business is prohibited, including but not limited to benches, brick, bus stops, buildings, campus signage, classrooms (including virtual classrooms), columns, concrete, doors, emergency call phones, fixtures, lights, lawns, poles, glass, mailboxes, newsstands, painted surfaces, railings, seating, sidewalks, staircases, trash cans, tresses, walls (interior and exterior), windows (facing interior or exterior), wood surfaces, etc.  

Notwithstanding the foregoing, faculty and staff may display political signs on the interior of their workspaces, provided it is not a public space and does not become the equivalent of a political billboard or otherwise inject partisan activities into the workspace. 

Q4: As a University employee can I personally endorse a candidate? 

A4: Yes, provided that such endorsement is done as a private citizen. Speaking and/or acting for the endorsement of any candidate(s) in the name of the University is prohibited. If the name of the University is identified, it should be communicated that the opinions expressed are yours and not the opinions of the University.

Q5: As an employee what other types of political activities are prohibited?

A5: The use of University resources (e.g., University letterhead, affiliated social media accounts, email, funds, equipment) for political activity is prohibited.  

Q6: What types of political activities are permissible?

A6: You may participate in off-campus political activities (e.g., rallies, forums, fundraising events) as long as such activities are conducted as a private citizen and do not imply that your personal actions and opinions are those of the University.

Q7: As a faculty member can I discuss the election in class? 

A7: Genuine curricular activities aimed at educating students with respect to the political process are acceptable provided they are germane (i.e., relevant to the subject of course) and do not advocate for any particular candidate(s).

The foregoing is not an exhaustive list. University members are encouraged to contact the Office of Government Relations and Advocacy (Phone: 412-624-7755) or the Office of University Counsel (Phone: 412-624-5674) regarding participation in political activities by the University.

Other Resources:

Office of Government Relations and Advocacy: Voter Registration Information

Office of the Provost Statement: University Personnel and Public Office

Q&A for Registered Student Organizations on Political Campaign Activity

Staff Handbook, General Policies and Procedures: Public Office

University Policy CS 10, Participation in Political Campaigns

University Policy CS 12, Political Contributions