Loyola sophomore Christian Geoppo, 19, stood at his table at the club and organization fair held at Loyola on Aug. 31. As vice president of Loyola College Republicans, he said his club serves as an open forum for conservative students to voice their opinions, regardless of support for the party’s presidential nominee, controversial businessman Donald Trump.
Geoppo said the national chapter of College Republicans had sent Loyola’s club Trump signage for the fair, which the students decided to display. However, the club was told by Loyola’s Student Activities and Greek Affairs (SAGA) to remove the Trump images from the table, according to Geoppo.
“Someone from the school told us we couldn’t have pictures of Donald Trump … because we’re not allowed to endorse [a candidate],” the economics major said.
As a tax-exempt non-profit institution, Loyola is subject to guidelines that keep the school itself from expressing partisan political opinions. That means registered student organizations (RSOs) are also not allowed to endorse candidates for political office.
Leslie Watland, the assistant director of SAGA and the person working the fair that day, said she was just enforcing the rules. She said she told the present members of Loyola College Republicans to use their own judgment in deciding whether or not to take down their Trump imagery.
“The spirit of the policy is to promote equity and parity,” Watland said.
The guidelines, spelled out in both Federal Election Commission (FEC) and Internal Revenue Service (IRS) regulations, prohibit students, faculty and staff from “expressly or impliedly” endorsing any political candidate. Prohibited activities include placing campaign signs on campus, contributing school funds to campaigns and recruiting students for campaigns through school-funded organizations.
Loyola’s vice president of government affairs, Philip Hale, explained that Loyola is complying with FEC and IRS regulations that apply to all colleges and universities.
“Loyola cannot support or cannot endorse [any candidate], and the courts have taken that to also mean that any resource of the university … [can’t] be used to endorse a candidate or a political party,” Hale said.
University resources include student activity fees, rooms or spaces used by student organizations and websites or social media accounts sponsored by the university, according to Hale.
Actions that are permitted by organizations include activities such as allowing nonpartisan voter registration and voter education, inviting candidates to speak in non-candidate capacities and providing opposing candidates access to air time on an “equal basis” when they speak at the university.
Although Loyola student organizations cannot post campaign or pro-candidate links on university and institution-affiliated websites or social media accounts, the social media accounts affiliated with a student organization are uncharted territory.
The Facebook page for Loyola College Democrats has posted numerous positive opinion pieces on former Secretary of State and Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton. The page has also shared posts directly from Clinton’s campaign Facebook page.
Although not a direct endorsement, it’s unclear whether the action constitutes an “implied” endorsement prohibited by university policy.
Watland, in regards to questions about the Facebook page, said the issue is certainly a “grey-area.” She thinks the Facebook page complies with university policy because the posts don’t editorialize. Most are shared without added comments.
“Where the university is concerned is … would [someone viewing a post] believe that Loyola, as an institution, is leaning towards one candidate,” Watland said.
David Evers, 21, the president of Loyola College Democrats, said he believes his club’s Facebook page complies with the guidelines.
“We’re not using university resources toward our social media,” said the senior political science major. “There’s the implied nature by virtue of us being the student arm of the Democratic Party … but that doesn’t mean that we’re actively on campus promoting those specific candidates using university resources.”
Still, Evers said the guidelines are too restrictive for students.
“It seems a little ludicrous to me, given that we are the student arm of the Democratic Party, that we’re not able to distribute literature or effectively promote candidates in really important races,” said Evers.
Loyola College Democrats has faced its own problems with the political guidelines about guest speakers. Evers explained he needed to turn away a candidate for the Illinois House of Representatives because the candidate wanted to speak at Loyola the next day.
The logistics involved in providing an equal opportunity to his opponent to be able to speak at the school in that short a time frame made it near impossible that they would have been allowed to have the candidate speak, Evers said.
Watland said there are parts of the policy that could be a bit restrictive but she thinks the overall benefit outweighs those parts.
“I do want to encourage students to have freedom of expression,” said Watland. “I think the spirit of [the policy] is good, [which is] to try and promote that institutions of higher education are safe spaces for students to go and expose themselves to different ideas and values.”
Geoppo said he’s neutral about the endorsement prohibition overall with the one benefit being that it makes all opinions valued. But, he said the policy shouldn’t exist if it can’t be enforced equally.
“If we have these policies, they should be applied fairly,” Geoppo said. “I don’t care if you’re a Democrat [or a] Republican.”