ACLU-UM Urges the University of Michigan to Adopt Strong Canvassing Policy

October 08, 2010

ANN ARBOR, Mich. The University of Michigan should uphold the free speech rights of students by allowing students to canvass for partisan issues in all residence halls, the American Civil Liberties Union of Michigan Undergraduate U of M Chapter announced after University officials implemented an interim political canvassing policy, which allows students to only campaign within their own dorms. The ACLU Undergraduate Chapter called the interim policy a step in the right direction; however urged the school to also permit students who don’t live in the dorms to canvass in the residence halls.

“College is a time where students form the political habits that they will have the rest of their lives,” said Mallory Jones, chair of the undergraduate chapter of the ACLU. “The University should allow students the maximum opportunities to be exposed to politics and to share their political views with others. The First Amendment rights of students cannot be compromised because of unfounded fears that can easily be mitigated with a secure registration process for students who wish to canvass in the dorms.”

Since the 2008 presidential election, the University has delayed the implementation of a permanent policy that permits students who live in the residence halls to express their political identity within their community. In March, the ACLU of Michigan, along with the U-M undergraduate and law school ACLU chapters and the Washtenaw County ACLU sent a letter urging the University of Michigan to amend its previous written policy, which completely banned students from campaigning for political causes and elections within the residence halls.

“The University of Michigan is an institution whose importance and relevancy relies on its support and dedication to the free exchange of ideas and opinions. The University must change this interim policy on political activity in the residence halls, which severely restricts students' First Amendment rights to engage our peers in discussion about the 2010 election, the campus Open Housing initiative, or any other important issue,” said Bennett Stein, a member of the undergraduate chapter of the ACLU. “The University has a distinct role in fostering, not stifling, these discussions in its communities.”

Additionally, the ACLU’s undergraduate chapter urges the University to allow for meaningful student input on the new, permanent policy. In the past, the process created to inform policy decisions has not been completely inclusive of student groups. In addition, the process has been excessively drawn out, often to the point where the students involved graduate without having made any progress. To alleviate these concerns, the University must outline a specific timeline to establish a new, permanent policy.

Compared to other Michigan universities, the University of Michigan’s new policy is exceptionally restrictive. At Michigan State University, students are permitted to canvass in any residence hall as long as they sign-in with the residence hall and specify the amount of time the students are planning to stay. At Central Michigan University registered student groups are permitted to canvass within the residence halls as long as they have a permit from the main Housing office.

To read the ACLU of Michigan’s letter, go to: http://www.aclumich.org/issues/student-rights/2010-03/1427.

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