Despite the excitement it has caused on campus, President Obama’s sudden visit to campus on Thursday has raised some concerns from faculty and staff.
Among the problems raised is one stipulation requiring attendees to Thursday’s event on Bascom Mall to provide their email and phone number to the Obama campaign.
The event requires online registration on Obama’s campaign website, where participants fill out the information, click “I’m in!” and later receive an email confirming their registration. This contact information may be used by the campaign in the future for calls or emails requesting volunteers or donations.
Kenneth Mayer, a University of Wisconsin political science professor, outlined this as a major concern about the event in an email to university administration officials.
“In a very real sense, we are forcing [students] to become participants in the campaign and express support for the campaign,” Mayer said in the email. “This is [standard operating procedure] for a campaign event, but it should not be for the university. … Should we be in the business of helping a campaign farm thousands of email addresses?”
Although the speech is taking place on campus, it is also a community event, Vice Chancellor for University Relations Vince Sweeney said.
He added despite the availability of other options, event planners felt this would be the most logical way of running the event.
UW’s news website links to the campaign event registration site, something Sweeney said reflected UW’s intent to pass along information regarding the visit.
Recent UW graduate Steven Olikara, last year’s senior class president, spoke at Obama’s 2010 visit and was involved in planning to attract major speakers to Madison for end-of-year talks. He said each candidate is allowed to hold political rallies on campus under UW System policy. He also encouraged Gov. Mitt Romney, Obama’s Republican opponent in the race, to take advantage of the policy.
“It’s Romney’s choice to campaign on this campus, and I absolutely think he should,” Olikara said. “It is the largest constituency of students in our state, and Wisconsin is a crucial swing state. His selection of Paul Ryan as a vice-presidential running mate signifies how important Wisconsin is to Governor Romney.”
Since the visit will cause several buildings in the area to be shut down, Mayer said he was also worried about the event “seriously disrupting our mission,” shown by the various exams and classes that have already been cancelled.
Some staff will also need to work elsewhere or take a personal or vacation day, which Mayer described as either “penalizing staff (or, at a minimum, dramatically inconveniencing them).”
Mayer also noted the difference between a presidential visit and a campaign visit and said UW is “finessing” the purpose of the event.
Sweeney said although some may not agree with Obama, the university took into consideration the “priceless educational value” of the event when making their decision to allow the president to speak on campus.
“Regardless of political affiliation, the president of the U.S. is coming, and that’s part of the overall student experience here,” Sweeney said. “There is great benefit; there is great disruption. We are trying to do what we can to minimize the disruptions as best we can.”