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The University of Utah's Independent Student Voice

The Daily Utah Chronicle

The University of Utah's Independent Student Voice

The Daily Utah Chronicle

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Social work department misused authority with pro-Obama e-mail

By Anne Roper

My friend Michelle recently received an e-mail from the social work program encouraging students to support Obama Blue Day by wearing blue and registering two voters. The worst part of the e-mail said, “If you can’t register two voters, talk to two people who may be on the fence or a McCain supporter and sway them to become an Obama supporter.”

Although this e-mail was grammatically offensive to me, it didn’t sit well with my friend for other reasons. Michelle is conservative and, as she puts it, already voted for Sarah Palin, but she also considers herself an anomaly in the liberal program.

It wasn’t the fact that the e-mail was supporting a candidate she didn’t agree with that bothered her, although it might have been what drew her to the issue. What annoyed her was that a college of a public school would favor a candidate at all.

Political favoritism like this enters into a gray area within the U’s policy. Although faculty members “have the legal rights and privileges of citizens,” Policy 6-316 of the Code of Faculty Rights and Responsibilities also states they are “primarily a teacher and a scholar” and they “must not require students to accept their personal beliefs or opinions and must strive in the classroom to maintain a climate conducive to thinking and learning.”

The e-mail didn’t require students to accept this personal belief, but the policy continues by stating faculty members “must not misuse their position, authority or relationship with students.”

Using e-mail lists to further this cause was a misuse of the list and the faculty member’s position. Although Michelle and I disagree on who will make the better leader for our country, she had a valid point. I am an absolute believer in free speech, but this e-mail has crossed into a gray area that needs closer examination.

Michelle replied to the e-mail by saying it was unethical for “the school of social work, an institution valuing diversity, to back one specific political party,” regardless of whom she supports.

Becky Lubbers, the administrative assistant replied by saying, “I had this conversation with the director before I sent the e-mail. I agree with you, but I didn’t have a choice.”

Political bias is bound to creep up all over campus in lectures or aside comments. When heated political issues and public money are entangled, our First Amendment rights become somewhat hard to sort out in the mess. The department should have gotten clearance from the administration before sending the e-mail.

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