Section 214 Institutional Authority on Political Matters

Effective: 3/19/18
Last Revised:
Responsible Office: General Counsel

Policy Statement:

The University of Maine System is a public institution and instrumentality of the State of Maine, consisting of the University of Maine, including its regional campus the University nof Maine at Machias; the University of Maine at Augusta, including its campus in Bangor and UMA centers around the state; the University of Maine at Farmington; the University of Maine at Fort Kent; the University of Maine at Presque Isle; and the University of Southern Maine, including its campuses in Gorham and Lewiston-Auburn. UMS’s public mission is to advance higher education in Maine through teaching, research, and public service; the System and its campuses receive significant state and federal taxpayer support to do so in ways that best serve all Maine citizens.

This policy is subject to Board Policy 212, Free Speech, Academic Freedom, and Civility, so as to best respect all UMS community members’ constitutionally protected free speech rights, individual rights as citizens, and faculty academic freedom. The Board recognizes its faculty as subject matter experts in their areas of teaching and research and encourages them to responsibly disseminate their research and knowledge. This policy does not restrict any UMS faculty, staff, or student from speaking on political matters, including testifying before or speaking with legislators or policy makers, about the subjects of their teaching or research expertise or personal experience, provided they do not represent that they speak for their campus or the System unless specifically authorized to do so.

UMS and its constituent universities fully embrace the First Amendment rights of all citizens, including all students and employees, to hold and express political, social, or religious views of any kind. Because UMS is funded in significant part by all Maine taxpayers and student tuition revenue sourced from federal financial aid programs, and because UMS must also maintain its federal 501(c)(3) tax-exempt status, the System and its universities, and individuals speaking or acting on their behalf, must at all times remain impartial as to such viewpoints except as provided elsewhere in this or other System policies.

UMS Legislative Advocacy:

The UMS Charter authorizes and directs the UMS Chancellor to develop and implement an effective statewide legislative program for the System. All UMS legislative advocacy without exception will therefore be managed through the Chancellor’s office, specifically the Office of Community and Government Relations. System legislative advocacy, including university-specific advocacy, may only be pursued by individuals authorized by UMS for that purpose.

For the purposes of this policy, “UMS (or System) legislative advocacy” includes interaction with the State Legislature, including individual legislators or legislative committees and their staff, the Governor’s office and staff, or any other public official or the general public when the purpose of the interaction or communication is to advocate for a specific UMS institutional position or outcome.

Institutional interactions with the United States government’s Executive Branch and agencies, Congress and congressional staff, and the various federal regulatory bodies having legal jurisdiction over each System university’s operation and activities are subject to this policy as well, except in cases where a specific campus or System office has primary responsibility for a function closely tied to the functional responsibility of the governmental office at issue (e.g., Department of Education Title IV officials and campus financial aid offices; Department of Education Office of Civil Rights and System General Counsel, etc.). Further, this policy does not restrict any UMS faculty, employee, department, division, or office from providing information, research, survey data, or policy advice to a local, state, or federal government official or office when required to do so by grant, contract, or legal mandate (e.g., the University of Maine Center for Community Inclusion and Disability Studies (CCIDS), which, by federal law, is required to advise, educate, and disseminate information to state and federal policymakers about individuals with developmental disabilities, or any similarly-purposed office or activities).

Restrictions on Partisan Political Activity:

UMS and its universities cannot participate or intervene in any partisan political campaign on behalf of, or in opposition to, any candidate for public office, which, for the purposes of this section, is referred to as “partisan political activity.”

If System and university employees wish to become actively involved in partisan political activities, they must do so on their own time, without using System or University funds or resources of any kind, and in such a way as to not interfere with or impair performing their regular System/university duties. When exercising their rights to participate in the political process as individuals or as otherwise permitted by this Policy, System/university employees should emphasize that their comments or actions are their own, and not those of the System or university unless they have been specifically authorized to speak or act on behalf of a System institution. This disclaimer is especially important if an employee, when speaking or acting as a private citizen or as otherwise permitted by this Policy, is using his or her title or affiliation with the System or a university for identification purposes or to establish his/her competence in a particular field.

Employees Seeking Elective Office

See Board Policy 403

Chancellor and Presidential Authority to Make Institutional Statements

Because public statements made and actions taken by the UMS Chancellor and System University Presidents may be ascribed to or perceived as the institutional position of UMS and/or its universities, respectively, this section applies only to the Chancellor and Presidents, who:

  • Have authority to speak or issue statements, or designate official spokespersons to speak or issue statements, on behalf of their institutions on issues core to the System/university mission (green/mission critical issues);
  • Should review in advance with the rapid response advisory team described below, when time permits, issues related to but not directly mission central (yellow/mission indirectly related issues); and
  • Are not authorized to speak, including through official spokespersons, on issues beyond or only tangentially related to core institutional mission (red/mission unrelated issues).

Issues are not static in relevance, but may vary in public or political salience over time; the Board will review and update the mission issue examples below for relevance at least every three years. Issues may shift from one concentric circle to another, or overlap, depending on context. The Chancellor and System University Presidents must at all times strive to maintain impartiality on political, social, or religious matters, subject to their duties to advance the missions of their institutions and the System as a whole.

Issues that involve legislative matters or advocacy must be coordinated as provided in “UMS Legislative Advocacy” above.

A standing rapid response advisory committee of six members, including two Trustees, two Presidents, and two senior UMS staff (one of whom should be the System General Counsel or his/her legal designee) should be available to review, when time permits, the reasonableness of making statements on issues brought forth by the Chancellor/Presidents that appear to fall in the yellow zone.

GREEN/Mission Critical: Academic administration, curriculum, institutional finances and planning, health and safety of students and employees, and general issues critical to the financial or functional stability and wellbeing of the institution and its students, e.g., Pell grant funding, guns on campus, defunding TRIO programs, marijuana dispensaries near campus.

YELLOW/Mission Indirectly Related: Issues important or relevant to society at large that may impact an institution or its students or employees, but not in such a way as to undermine the institution’s educational mission or prevent the institution from carrying it out, e.g., climate change, labor standards, immigration policy.

RED/Mission Unrelated: Issues of local, state or national import, but not relevant to educational mission or institutional financial or functional stability, e.g., abortion policy, tax reform, global trade policy.

The Board retains the right at all times to issue statements, including through the Chair or Chancellor, on behalf of the University of Maine System that cover all System universities.