“Democracy: love it or lose it.” That’s how Ohio State University Professor Brian McHale ended his recent email exhorting his fellow teachers to invite Obama campaign volunteers into their classrooms. The purpose was ostensibly to boost voter registration, but secondarily to create volunteers for the Obama campaign.
Professor McHale states his email that “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.”
“If you were willing, the volunteers could also take a couple of extra minutes to see whether they could interest any of your students in volunteering for the Obama campaign themselves,” he writes. “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.”
Professor McHale called voter registration in Ohio and elsewhere “absolutely key to this election.” His email, reprinted by The Chronicle of Higher Education, also directed readers to contact two Ohio Organizing for America representatives.
The university took umbrage at Professor McHale’s email; university officials say these actions were against university policy. “In the email to faculty, [OSU Executive Vice President and Provost Joseph Alutto] said the university legal counsel has determined that faculty must not participate in partisan politics, which includes ‘inviting political organizers into our classroom,’” reported Kristen Mitchell for OSU’s The Lantern.
“McHale, however, was not under the impression he was violating any university rules,” writes Mitchell. “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 told The Lantern via email.
Others are not so sympathetic. “The whole idea of professors’ subjecting their students to this sort of cajolery has the fragrance of abuse,” wrote Peter Wood, President of the National Association of Scholars, for The Chronicle of Higher Education.
“The point is that the college classroom should be reserved for the subjects that the students signed up for, not for the political enthusiasms of their teachers,” he writes. “The student who enrolls in first-year English composition ought to be learning to compose essays, not campaign fliers.” Professor McHale teaches English at OSU.
“Jim Petro, chancellor of the Ohio Board of Regents, must also address this incident,” demanded Case Western Reserve University School of Law professor George W. Dent, Jr. in a column for The Plain Dealer. “State university personnel will be looking to see whether any sanctions are imposed on Professor McHale. If none are, the lesson will be that he broke the rules and got away with it.”