As a matter of principle, Williams encourages everyone in our community to actively participate in the political process as private citizens. Many courses and co-curricular activities also engage with current political issues.
The college is equally committed to preserving academic freedom and promoting inquiry and inclusion.
Federal and state laws, however, prohibit or severely limit any use of college resources for personal political activities. This guide explains the rules in order to help faculty, staff and students be active politically without running afoul of law or college policy.
For questions about what’s allowable or not, please contact the College Counsel at 413-597-4860.
Nonpartisan voter registration and turnout efforts are allowed and encouraged. Many are conducted through the Center for Learning in Action. We urge everyone to register to vote and get involved in the issues, and to help others do the same.
Federal and state laws prohibit the use of college resources by any faculty member, staff member, or student in connection with a campaign activity that either supports or opposes a candidate or a ballot issue.
“Activity” includes raising money, hosting or promoting events, organizing or otherwise supporting or opposing any candidate, ballot initiative or issue.
“College resources” include, but aren’t limited to, funds, supplies, printers, phones, vehicles, facilities, email accounts and communication channels such as Williams listservs, Daily Messages, college social media accounts and campus mail. Employees are also prohibited from engaging in political activities during work hours.
The simplest way to stay on the right side of the rules is to only conduct your political activities with your personal technology, equipment and time. Use a personal (non-Williams) email address to send campaign emails, use your personal phone for political calls, and use your home printer or hire local a print shop to create materials.
Federal law allows a narrow exception through which the college administration can advocate to government officials on issues directly affecting our mission. This is generally done only by the president and senior administrators, and should never be done without permission. Again, please contact the College Counsel with any questions.
Reference to a college title or role
When you engage in off-campus political activities, the law requires that you take care not to give the impression, even inadvertently, that you’re representing the college or speaking on Williams’ behalf.
For faculty and staff, this means that you generally shouldn’t cite or allow citation of your professional title or Williams affiliation in political solicitations, speaking engagements, etc. If your title must appear, make sure it’s accompanied by a clear statement that you’re speaking or acting in your personal capacity, and that the views expressed are not those of Williams College.
Students aren’t generally assumed to be making official pronouncements on behalf of their school. Nonetheless, students, please make sure people understand that you’re speaking as a private individual and not representing Williams or your fellow students, unless you have those students’ prior permission.
Voter education activities
We may not use college resources to engage in voter education that favors a particular candidate or party. This includes promoting actions, including voting, with respect to issues that are closely associated with particular candidates. Examples of prohibited activity would be a voter registration drive that’s being done in support of a specific candidate, or a voter education campaign that urges people to vote a particular way on a ballot issue.
Candidate appearances on campus
The following policy applies to both in-person and virtual activities.
Faculty and staff are welcome to provide candidates or their delegates with a college forum to promote their candidacy, if and only if you offer an equal opportunity to all other candidates in the race. There must be no fundraising, the appearance should be in a format that encourages academic engagement (for example, a talk followed by Q&A, as opposed to a campaign rally), and you should begin the event with a clear statement that Williams College takes no position with regard to the candidate.
Registered Student Organizations (RSOs) may request to offer comparable opportunities, via the campus speaker policy and process.
Faculty, staff and RSOs can also invite candidates to speak in a non-candidate capacity about topics relevant to a course, group or activity. Such appearances have to be nonpartisan and unrelated to the visitor’s candidacy, and must be accompanied by a statement that the guest is appearing in a non-candidate capacity.
The law does not prohibit students, faculty or staff may from displaying materials expressing your views in private dorm and office spaces. The college supports your right of free expression in these private spaces. You may not post such materials in shared hallways, common spaces or other non-private areas, indoors or out, without college permission.
Williams is diverse politically, among other ways. If you do choose to display your views in your private space, it’s worth thinking in advance about how you’ll navigate any political differences that could arise with guests, visitors or colleagues.
The college also endorses the advice of the American Council on Education (ACE), a national higher education association, which counsels that campaign signs should not be visible in rooms or offices (even home offices) that are being used for remote instruction.
Students, for more guidance about signage in college-managed or common spaces, including outdoor areas, see the campus postings policy.
If you have questions about these guidelines, or about a specific activity, here are people you can turn to for advice:
Students may contact the Dean of the College
Staff may contact the Vice President for Finance and Administration and College Treasurer
Faculty may contact the Dean of Faculty
We appreciate everyone’s efforts to get involved in the democratic process, fully and responsibly.