Is It Campaigning in the Classroom, or Relevant Education?

Adams State University, a public university in Colorado, is being accused of contravening state law by offering students course credit in exchange for volunteer work done with President Obama’s re-election campaign. Robby Soave of the Daily Caller reports that the Colorado Fair Campaign Practices Act prohibits the use of public resources towards political campaigns — which is why many were surprised when the Adams State University advertised a ‘12 week long organizing internship for the Obama Campaign.’ To gain credit students would have to work at least 15 hours a week and take part in a full day training session on September 20th.

Oliver Darcy is editor at Campus Reform, the conservative student blog that first reported on the story. Julie Waecter, assistant to the president for communications at Adams State, has claimed that the credit offer was legal as no public resources were being deployed, but Darcy finds this position disingenuous:

“They are definitely using a few professors at least to help these students with the campaign process, so I don’t understand how it doesn’t use public resources for campaign purposes,” he said

While it remains to be seen if the school will fall afoul of the Fair Practices Act, Darcy notes that there was no equivalent internship for credit offered for those wishing to work on the Romney campaign.

The school has since withdrawn the course, citing lack of interest instead of acknowledging they may have made a mistake. Waechter also claimed that the reason internships were only offered for those who wished to work towards re-electing the President is that the Obama campaign was the only one to reach out to the school:

“The Obama campaign did approach the school. Others campaigns did not,” she said, adding that the school would have considered a similar offer from the Republican campaign of Gov. Mitt Romney.

Peter Wood, president of the National Association of Scholars, says that universities shouldn’t be offering class credit for political activity at all.

“The principle here is that this sort of stuff does not belong in the classroom, and that also it is not something for which students should be receiving academic credit,” said Wood in an interview with TheDC News Foundation.

“The public funding that goes into a university is not there to advance political campaigns.”

Adams State’s story is similar to one Wood reported on where Professor Brian McHale of Ohio State University asked colleagues to give precious class time to Obama campaign organizers to encourage students to pitch in with the reelection effort.

Wood says that incidents like those at OSU and ASU are far from isolated and that they fit an established pattern of improper cooperation between university officials and the Obama campaign.

“It’s one of those things I add to the documentation of fairly numerous instances in which the Obama campaign has crossed the line.”