With less than one month before Election Day, campus political organizations are voicing concern about an interim University Housing policy that allows students to only do political canvassing in the residence halls in which they live.
Since 2008, only students campaigning for positions in the Michigan Student Assembly and LSA Student Government and representatives of Voice Your Vote — an MSA commission that encourages non-partisan voter registration — have been consistently allowed to engage in pre-approved canvassing in University residences, according to University policy. In the last few years, University Housing has not implemented a permanent policy about student canvassing for political causes and elections.
University Housing spokesman Peter Logan wrote in an e-mail interview that the current interim policy allows students to engage in political discourse without compromising their privacy and security.
“The residence halls and undergraduate apartments are not ‘open territory’ for non-residents to engage in political canvassing or any other form of soliciting residents,” Logan wrote. “University Housing embraces the fundamental principle that residence halls are our student’s homes. We strive to ensure that their environments remain conducive to studying, resting, relaxing and socializing.”
Political organizations on campus including the University’s chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union and the University’s chapters of the College Democrats and College Republicans support the interim policy, but leaders say more needs to be done to allow for increased political engagement in University Housing.
According to a press release issued by the University’s chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union on Friday, the next logical step for the University is to allow students living off campus to canvass in University residences.
LSA senior Mallory Jones, chair of the University’s ACLU chapter and a former news editor for The Michigan Daily, wrote in an e-mail interview that since residence halls are composed primarily of freshmen, these students may not be able to get detailed information from more experienced political canvassers — who are often upperclassmen — under the new policy.
“Upperclassmen who don’t live in the residence halls have experience in political canvassing and knowledge about the Ann Arbor area that freshmen are still gathering,” she wrote. “If freshmen have questions about voting or certain candidates and issues, an upperclassman going door-to-door is much more likely to be able to help out than a freshman that has only been on campus a few weeks.”
She added that door-to-door canvassing, when done in a respectful way, can be one of the most effective methods of spreading political knowledge on campus.
“To have someone come to your door and ask you if you are registered to vote will get your attention, even if seeing a table on the Diag didn’t,” she wrote.
LSA junior Brendan Campbell, chair of the University’s chapter of College Democrats, said the group plans to take full advantage of the canvassing privilege to help generate interest in politics, but that the policy is too restrictive.
“We need a permanent solution that reflects not only the realities of the First Amendment, but also the University’s purpose of building an intelligent and informed citizenry for our state and for our country,” Campbell wrote in the press release.
LSA senior Charles Bogren, president of the University’s chapter of the College Republicans, said the College Republicans are pleased to have the opportunity to canvass in University Housing, but he would like to see the University reach out to student groups for input when developing new policies related to canvassing.
“We definitely believe that everyone, whether they live in the dorms, an apartment or a house, should be able to be involved in the political process,” Bogren said. “We try our best to reach out to voters. For a lot of people on campus, this is their first chance to be involved in the (political) process and be involved in a campaign.”
The interim policy will remain in place until March 2011, and according to a press release issued by the College Democrats, the University has agreed to construct a permanent policy in cooperation with the Residence Halls Association.