Legalities of Communicating Externally
Response from T. Lynn Williamson and Ethics Committee Regarding the Lexington Herald-Leader Newspaper
To: Jen Martin and Brenda Huffer
The applicable Governing Regulation to your inquiry is GR I.D.2, "Ethical Principles and Code of Conduct."The most applicable specific section is as follows:
"Use of the University’s Name. University members have a public association with the University, but are also private citizens, thus care must be taken to appropriately differentiate between the two roles. University members may not use or allow the use of the name of the University or identify themselves as employees of the University of Kentucky in the public promotion or advertising of commercial products without prior written approval. Individuals writing or speaking publicly in a professional or expert capacity may identify themselves by their relationship with the University, but if so identified then in all instances where the individual might give even the appearance of speaking on behalf of the University, care must be taken to emphasize that any views expressed are their own and are not representative of the University of Kentucky.University members are encouraged to contribute to public debate as citizens. In instances where University members comment publicly as part of their official University duties, they should do so using University stationery and e-mail accounts; when commenting as citizens, University members must use personal stationery and personal e-mail accounts."
Your general question is difficult to respond to, and any answer is going to depend on the exact facts of the particular situation. For example, there is a difference between what an individual employee may do, what a minority group of the Staff Senate may do, and what the majority of the Staff Senate may do. As a further example, you ask how one may "converse" with the press or State Legislature. I am not sure what you mean by "converse." The answer will vary as to whether "converse" means write a letter, send an email, write a commentary, purchase an ad, speak with someone personally, etc.
This opinion of the Ethics Committee is going to address "conversing" as if the primary meaning is sending written material sent to the Herald-Leader.
If you, as an individual,want to write a letter to the Herald-Leader, it is acceptable that you do so. If you, as an individual, want to express your personal opinions, you should do so using your name, but not associating yourself with UK such that there might be an confusion that you are speaking for UK.
If you are a professional or an expert, you may write to the Herald-Leader and express your opinions as a professional or as an expert, but you must clearly state that the views expressed are your own professional/expert views and not those of UK. For example, it is acceptable for Warren Denny (the University Architect) or David Mohney (former Dean of the College of Design and architect) to express their professional/expert opinions about the proposed Center City development and to identify themselves as an architect or a professor of architecture. If Mr. Denny or Professor Mohney wanted to write a letter to the Herald-Leader concerning the state of the economy in Lexington, in Kentucky, or in the USA, they should sign their letter with their name and not indicate any association with UK. As a further example, some time ago at election time, the dean of an academic college wrote a letter to the H-L in support of a particular candidate; in an inquiry prior to sending the letter, the dean was told that he could send the letter expressing his personal opinion as a citizen, but that he should not mention his employment or title at UK.
Since being a elected member of the Staff Senate is not consider a profession nor does it require any particular level of educational/experience expertise (Being a Staff Senator requires some level of understanding of the mission/operations of UK and its organization and a lot of dedicated time and effort, but again not professional licensing or a degree or particular expertise.), it is difficult to imagine any scenario under which you would be able to express your opinion in a letter to the Herald-Leader and identity yourself as a UK Staff Senator. You may write a letter expressing your personal opinions, but that letter should be signed with your name only. You are not expressing opinions of the UK Staff Senate or of UK, and, therefore, you should not identify your association with the Staff Senate or UK so as to possibly give the appearance that you are speaking for the Staff Senate or for UK. You may speak as a Senator in the Staff Senate meetings, through other UK internal communications that are used by Staff Senators. If the Staff Senate wants to write a letter to the H-L, it may do so and that letter would be signed by the Chair of the Senate or the members of the Executive Council.
If the majority of the Staff Senate wants to send a "commentary" to possibly be published in the H-L (Commentaries are subject to review of the H-L editorial staff and the H-L staff determines if it is published.), a resolution with agreed-upon language needs to be passed in the usual business of the Senate. It should be signed by the Chair of the Senate or members the Executive Council (or possibly the Chair of the Committee that wrote the resolution). If the Senate wants to run an ad in the H-L, an ad could only be purchased with discretionary money, not general fund money. Any ad purchased with UK general fund money would have to be run through and by UK's Public Relations Office. Per Administrative Regulation I-1.0-1, the Director of Public Relations is "...official spokesperson of the University." Further, the AR states,"All media releases shall be approved by the Office of Public Relations and all media inquiries shall be directed to the Office Public Relations."
If you want to speak to a H-L reporter as a citizen, you may do so. If you want to speak toa H-L reporter as a UK employee or as a Staff Senator, PR should be contacted. An official of PR will tell you whether or not you, as a UK employee or as a Staff Senator, are permitted to speak to the reporter; an official of PR may also decide whether or not to be present for the interview. (You may request a PR official be present for the interview if the official of PR gives you permission to speak and decides it is not necessary for someone from PR to be present.) Again, you as a citizen may speak to a reporter, but you, as an employee and a Staff Senator, are not a spokesperson for UK (or the Staff Senate)and should not give an appearance that you are speaking for UK or the Staff Senate.
As to submission of a minority opinion of the Staff Senate as a letter to the editor or as acommentary to the H-L, I presume that the Staff Senate has a parliamentarian? As Robert's Rules notes, in the final decision/action, it is the majority of the body that decides the general will. While there should be a deliberative process with full and free discussion, there is no right to a minority report. While the majority of the body obviously would not agree with the minority report, the decision to issue a minority report must be approval of the major of the body. If the majority of the Staff Senate approves the issuance of a minority report and that report being submitted to the H-L as a commentary, it would be signed by a number of Senators who drafted it, but it should be clearly stated that the opinions expressed are a minority report of the Staff Senate. But you or a group of Staff Senators may not on your own decide to send a "minority report/opinion" to the H-L. Robert's Rules must be followed.
As to correspondence or communications with members of the Legislature, the Office of Government Relations has the responsibility of managing "...all official relationships with federal, state, and local government agencies and entities on behalf of the University." (AR I-1.0-1) As a citizen, you may contact a state legislator on any subject and identify yourself as a citizen of the state as well as a citizen living in a particular Legislative district. Without the knowledge and approval of the Office of Government Relations, you may not contact a member of the Legislature as a UK employee or as a Staff Senator, except as provided to the contrary by law (certain whistleblower statutes) or as requested by the Office of Government Relations. An Administrative Regulation specifically provides,"Individual employees are not authorized to act or speak as representatives of the University to elected leaders or other government entities on issues that relate to policies or legislation affecting the University...." For example, the University submits to the CPE and the Legislature a priority listing for UK construction projects; the University cannot have the seven deans of seven colleges telling Legislators that their college's building is the number one priority of the University.
In summary,the answer to your inquiry completely depends on the exact facts. It is highly unlikely that a member of the Staff Senator could submit a letter or commentary, noting the member's role as a Staff Senator, to the H-L without being in violation of the applicable Governing Regulation.
T. Lynn Williamson
Chair, University Ethics Committee
Sr. Associate General Counsel
301 Main Building