The following guidelines are intended to assist university leaders as they consider whether to issue a public statement on behalf of the university, a college, or an academic or administrative unit. University leaders include the president, members of the president’s cabinet, the provost, the staff in the Office of the Provost, deans, dean of students, associate deans, department chairs, holders of director-level positions, and others who, if communicating in their official capacity, are likely to be perceived as speaking on behalf of the institution or one of its subunits.
These guidelines do NOT address statements made by individual members of the campus community on their own behalf. The University of Iowa fully supports academic freedom and the constitutional right of individual students, faculty, and staff to express their personal opinions regarding political and social issues or events occurring within or outside of the community. As a reminder, individuals must follow university policies regarding the use of the university name and resources, including email, websites, and social media accounts.
Definition of a public statement
A public statement is any form of communication by a university leader to students, faculty, staff, alumni, the press, the public, or other institutional stakeholders from a university-owned channel (email, website, social media feed, etc.) regarding a local, state, national, or international issue.
Public versus personal statements
Generally, statements made in the course of performing one’s job duties are “official” and attributed to the university. Such statements are usually characterized by:
- The use of university resources (such as the email system).
- Identification of the speaker as a university employee.
- A clear connection between the subject matter of the statement and the speaker’s university role.
Statements of a purely personal nature are generally not “public statements” of the university. Depending on the nature of one’s university role, this distinction may not always be apparent, and university leaders should be clear about when they are speaking personally.
Even so, some university roles have such broad scope that it would be difficult to disclaim the university role at all. For example, the university president’s opinions on a host of issues are likely to be viewed as the university’s position, even if the president makes clear that they are only expressing their personal opinion.
University of Iowa guiding principles
Diversity of thought and background is the strength of a public university. University leaders should issue public statements sparingly to avoid limiting the free exchange of ideas necessary for education, research, and discovery. Reaching out with support and resources for members of the community most directly affected is often the best approach.
University leaders may consider issuing an institution-level or unit-level statement in the following circumstances:
- The issue or event has a direct impact on the university’s ability to fulfill its mission of teaching, research, and service.
Examples: Legislation to limit tenure, restrict specific avenues of research, or impact academic freedom in the classroom.
- The issue or event directly affects members of the university community specifically in their roles as students, faculty, or staff.
Examples: Changes to the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program or F-1 academic student visa program.
- The issue or event, whether local, national, regional, or international, has created a level of disruption on the University of Iowa campus that it is necessary for a university leader to reaffirm the university’s values.
Example: An incident or event that results in widespread protests on the university campus, requiring a university response.
Fundamental questions to consider
University leaders shall consider the following questions when determining whether to issue a public statement:
- Will issuing a statement uphold or undermine the university’s commitment to academic freedom, open inquiry, vigorous debate, and free expression inside or outside of the classroom?
- Will the university have a greater impact signing on to a broader statement with fellow members of the Big Ten Academic Alliance, AAU, APLU, or its fellow Regents institutions?
- Does the statement contradict state, federal, or Board of Regents, State of Iowa policy?
- Will issuing a statement limit another individual’s ability to exercise academic freedom or free expression?
- Does the content of the statement affirm university values of community, inclusion, and integrity?
- Will the campus be better served by pointing to or providing support services or special programming related to the issue or event?
Public statements issued by the university, regardless of the sender, should adhere to the following best practices:
- Statements should be timely and explain why the issue or event has direct implications for the mission or operations of the university, a college, or an academic or administrative unit.
- Statements should be factual, based on current data or information, and free of speculation, claims or accusations.
- When appropriate, the statement should provide substantive actions the university, a college, or an academic or administrative unit is taking, or will take, in response to the issue or event that precipitated the message.
- Statements should be honest and open about the university’s strengths and weaknesses, commitment to change, and ability or limited ability to affect change.
- When issuing a statement of support or solidarity, it should be sent from the college or academic or administrative unit most connected to the members of the university community affected.
Public statement content
A public statement should include some, if not all, of the following elements:
- Reference to the mission, vision, and values of the University of Iowa.
- A list of resources applicable to the subject matter that could include:
University leaders should review the following Board of Regents and university rules as they consider whether to issue a public statement on behalf of the university, a college, or an academic or administrative unit.
Board of Regents policy
As a public university, the University of Iowa must follow the policies established by its governing body, the Board of Regents, State of Iowa. Relevant sections of the Board Policy Manual include:
Chapter 3: Academic Policies and Procedures, 3.2 subsection E
E. Regent universities shall not be or become an instrument of partisan political action. The expression of partisan political opinions and viewpoints shall be those of individuals, not of institutions, because the official adoption of any political position, whether favored by majority or minority, tends to substitute biased information that hinders the continuing search for truth.
Chapter 4: Regent Institutions, 4.2 subsection I
I. The University’s proper role is in supporting and encouraging freedom of inquiry by fostering opportunities for the expression of differing views regarding many issues in multiple areas of study, research, and debate, including current political, social, and public policy issues. The Universities shall not take action in such a way as to require or unduly pressure members of the campus community, in their personal capacities, to express or adopt a particular viewpoint on a political, social or public policy matter. The University may speak, as an institution, on political, social, or public policy matters when such matters are central to the mission or critical operations of the University as reasonably determined by the University. In all instances, University statements on political, social, or public policy matters must be consistent with any stated position of the Board of Regents.
Public statements must not violate the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) or HIPAA Privacy Rule and are expected to abide by university policies regarding privacy, professional ethics and responsibility, acceptable use of information technology, and political activity guidelines.
Therefore, public statements must not do any of the following:
- Release private or confidential information, including, but not limited to, information related to the academic records, health status, or personnel records of individuals at the institution.
- Promote, endorse, or oppose political campaigns or candidates for elected or appointed government office. Comments in support of or opposition to specific legislation should not be made without first consulting with the Office of Strategic Communication.
- Include content that is threatening, harassing or discriminatory, including biased statements that target protected classes.
- Defame or violate the rights of anyone.
- Be issued on behalf of other individuals, entities, groups, or organizations.
Guidelines for colleges and other academic or administrative units
If the president or provost issues a public statement, colleges and other academic and administrative units (departments, centers, institutes, and programs) are encouraged to share that statement rather than issue their own.
In the absence of a public statement by the president or provost, academic and administrative units should seek guidance and approval before issuing a public statement. Guidance should be sought from the respective unit head, dean, or vice president. Approval should come from a team of university leaders, which typically will include the president, the provost, the president of the Faculty Senate, and representatives from the Division of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion, and the Office of Strategic Communication. All statements should adhere to Board of Regents policy and follow best practices.
Any and all questions about issuing public statements should be directed to Peter Matthes, vice president for external relations and senior advisor to the president.