Update: A good friend of mine and WTVN host Dirk Thompson shares this e-mail response from the University:
Subject: RE: OSU Prof breaking rules?
From: “McGuire, Jenna”
To: Dirk Thompson
President Gee is currently in Board meetings, and asked that I respond to you directly. We appreciate your bringing this to our attention.
Please know that upon learning of this incident, President Gee immediately alerted the University Provost. He and his staff are investigating and will respond accordingly.
Again, thank you for contacting us. Please know that we are taking this issue seriously.
Writer, Office of the President
The Ohio State University
In an e-mail to fellow professors at Ohio State, filled with cliches about voter suppression and just how important it is that they work with the Obama campaign, Ohio State University English professor Brian McHale urged his fellow educators to bring in representatives from the Obama campaign to register voters and talk about volunteering, if the professor is comfortable. Note that this is an English professor, not a political science teacher looking to expand his students’ viewpoints on the election, or anything like that. The Chronicle of Higher Education warns of these tricks and shares the e-mail:
I’ve been in touch with a couple of campus organizers for the Obama campaign, who have asked me to pass along to all of you a request for access to your classes in the next few weeks. If you were willing, they would send along a volunteer to make a pitch to your students about registering to vote. 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. 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.
I don’t need to tell you that voter registration is absolutely the key to this election, not least of all in the state of Ohio. (I don’t need to tell you this because it has been made so manifestly plain by those who have been doing their best in several states, including ours, to limit access to the polls in various ways.) I hope you can see your way to helping bump up the voter registration and turnout among this key constituency—our students.
The easiest way to arrange for volunteers to visit your classrooms is to contact Natalie Raps or Matt Caffrey directly: [address removed] and [address removed]. Alternatively, you could contact me, and I’ll put you in touch with them. Either way, please do it!
Democracy: love it or lose it.
Let me just note a couple things before I get to the crux of this problem. First off, no one is limiting access to the polls, and voters today in most states have considerably more options, including voting early and by mail in Ohio for any reason whatsoever, than they did even 8 years ago. Second, note how overtly partisan his language is, even outside of the fact that he’s directly coordinating with the Obama campaign. He wants to drive out “this key constituency”, which he knows leans toward the President. This isn’t encouraging civic engagement, it’s trying to “bump up” his candidate. Finally, the last line with the “love it or lose it” is tired and over-the-top. If Mitt Romney wins we lose Democracy? Give me a break.
Now on to the main point; the direct coordination with Obama campaign staffers (both Raps and Caffrey are on re-election payroll) and the implicit solicitation of student votes in the classroom. I’ve seen this stuff happen before. The people are brought in, the class is asked to “be respectful”, which essentially means that conservative students aren’t allowed to mess with their pitch (in my experience in most classrooms one or two emboldened conservatives tend to dominate the discussions, which isn’t surprising since we’re fiercely independent). Any effort to bring in a similar representative from a rival campaign is normally shot down, though not always.
Also, I find it hilarious Mr. Caffrey is one of the Obama campaign representatives, since he himself is not a big fan of free speech on campus. I distinctly remember a night during my freshman year at Ohio State, where me and some conservative friends “chalked” an anti-Obama message on campus. It was an “Obamunism” logo, which isn’t offensive enough to be branded hate speech at Ohio State. We finished around 11:30 PM, went to get food, and came back between midnight and 1 AM. Caffrey, along with some others, had buckets and jugs of water and were removing the message before any students could get to it. Meanwhile, our side allowed an anti-McCain message featuring the Michigan “M” (which is practically considered hate speech at OSU) stand on campus for months. Tolerance!
Ohio State students should reject the idea of partisan campaigning in the classroom, and any conservatives in the room when this happens should make forceful arguments against registering with the Obama campaign, who is free under the law (unsure if they do) to collect parts of that information for campaign purposes. Offer an alternative, like registering with the Franklin County Board of Elections, a short High St. bus ride away. Stand up and fight for your classrooms; if you don’t the liberals will take them.