Budget discussions – appropriate use of state resources

January 30, 2015

Dear Faculty and Staff,

Following our discussion at the Plenary, we are providing the following guidance concerning the appropriate use of state resources for any UWM employee who wishes to be involved in discussions, debate, and/or advocacy concerning the state budget situation and proposed cuts and changes to UW System and UWM. This information is based on state law and was developed in consultation with the UWM Office of Legal Affairs.

GUIDELINES

As a general matter, the use of state resources by UWM employees for the following purposes is not permitted:

  • advocating for governmental action or legislative change at a local, state or federal level
  • soliciting contributions or services for a political purpose from other state employees while they are engaged in their official duties

State resources for these purposes include:

  • work time
  • institutional letterhead and logos
  • electronic university resources including email, websites, on-line discussion boards, cell phones, or other similar resources
  • office space and other facilities
  • campus telephones, fax machines or photocopiers

YOUR PERSONAL ACTIONS

In addition, we must all clarify when we are speaking in our roles as private citizens so that our comments and speech are not confused with an official UWM position. For example, you are free to identify yourself as a UWM employee in any communication, but that communication (if it refers to these matters) should not be on UWM letterhead or sent from a UWM email account.

When communicating with one another, state or local officials, the media, and or any other person regarding these issues, please do so using personal email accounts and/or other personal resources. Of course, all of our shared governance groups have regularly scheduled meetings as well as the ability to schedule special meetings to the extent you wish to share information with one another about the budget and related issues.

FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS

Within these guidelines, there may be grey area, so we also include the following FAQs.

What is “work time”?

For employees with fixed schedules, work time would be those hours where you are being paid to perform work with the exception of permitted breaks and paid or unpaid leave.

For salaried employees who work more than 40 hours (occasionally or regularly), you should consider your “work time” to be those normal hours that you are expected to be at work and/or are actually at work except for time that you are using paid or unpaid leave.

For those without fixed schedules and/or with flexible schedules, it is less clear what your individual “work time” would be. In order to avoid any concerns about engaging in political activity during work time, a good rule would be to avoid commingling work and non-work emails during the same timeframe as well as not engaging in political activity during clear times when you would be working, such as during classes and office hours. In addition, it might be best to avoid engaging in political activity during times that most people would expect you to be working (i.e., 8 a.m. – 5 p.m.) so as to avoid any question whether you were on work time.

Can I discuss the recent budget developments with my students?

The same rules apply to these discussions as apply to elections. Thus, just as it is permissible to encourage students to vote, you can encourage students to educate themselves and express any personal opinions to their legislators or others. On the other hand, just as it is not permissible to tell or attempt to convince students for whom to vote, you also should not use class time, class discussions (online or in person), or office hours to tell students what their position should be on the budget and related issues or to attempt to convince them of your personal view on these issues irrespective of who raises the issue.

Can I use UWM email to discuss these issues with my colleagues?

It depends. Just as you should not use UWM resources to encourage anyone to take a certain political position or support a certain candidate, you should not use UWM email to engage in similar discussions and advocacy concerning the budget. If there is information to share, such as the date and location of budget hearings, budget projections, etc., you may share this factual information with colleagues using UWM resources as long as it is not accompanied by advocacy. For those wishing to advocate a particular position and encourage colleagues to do the same, you should use personal resources to do so.

In any event, be cautious that you do not inadvertently violate the open meetings law by conducting discussions electronically if you are a group that is required to provide notice of your meetings. (Groups required to provide such notice are “governmental bodies” who are officially charged).

Are my personal emails subject to the Wisconsin Public Records Law?

In general, emails sent and received using personal email accounts are only subject to the Wisconsin Public Records Law if you use them to discuss UWM business in your official capacity. Thus, if you are using your personal email to speak as a private citizen, such emails should generally not be subject to the records law.

Are my UWM emails related to any budget discussion subject to the Wisconsin Public Records Law?

Your UWM emails are generally “records” within the meaning of the law and may be subject to disclosure unless they are purely personal in nature (such emails are only permitted under the exception for using UWM resources for personal purposes on a brief and incidental basis).

Do I need to follow the open meetings law for any budget-related discussions?

You should follow the open meetings law for any budget discussion as you would for any other topic under discussion by your group or committee. If the meeting is not of a group otherwise subject to the open meetings law, then you would not need to comply with the open meetings law for such a meeting simply because the topic is the budget.

Where can I find more details about political activities on campus?

Please see the following guidance from UW System:

https://www.wisconsin.edu/government-relations/download/PoliticalActivitiesonCampusGuidance.pdf

Where can I find more information about public records and open meetings?

Please see resources provided by the UWM Office of Legal Affairs:
https://wwwdev.uwm.edu/legal/records/

Sincerely,

Tom Luljak
Vice Chancellor, University Relations and Communications

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