Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Farewell to MVBOE Members Ian Watson and Steve Hughes

The last regular meeting of the Mount Vernon Board of Education for 2009, held on Monday, included a presentation of “Distinguished Service Award” to outgoing board members Ian Watson and Steve Hughes.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Barone Ad Prompts Policy Review at MVNU

The day of the school board election Mount Vernon Nazarene University Provost Henry Spaulding received a “few hot calls from the community” regarding an ad for candidate Paula Barone. The ad made a close connection between the university and an endorsement of Barone’s candidacy by a dean at the school.

(See previous coverage: “MVNU Dean Endorsed Paula Barone.” )

MVNU currently has no policy that addresses the issue of faculty or staff, in their official capacity, endorsing political candidates. “We are silent on that, that’s a hole in our personnel policies,” Spaulding said.

Spaulding said that he has no basis to reprimand Dean Sonja Smith, who endorsed Barone, because of the lack of policy addressing this issue.

As Spaulding understands the situation, he said that Smith was not aware that her endorsement was going to be used in a print ad.

Had Smith brought a proof copy of the ad to him, and asked about its appropriateness, Spaulding said he would have told her that the ad was not OK.

“She supports her, she is a friend with her, knows her,” Spaulding said. “As a private citizen she can endorse who she wants to, but the challenge of course is that [MVNU] doesn’t endorse candidates and [because of the ad] it appears that we do. So that is an issue we’ve got to deal with.”

The new policy has yet to be written, but Spaulding explained what he envisions it will state. “The policy will be that a professor or administrator at this university is prohibited from endorsing any candidate in the name of the institution or writing letters to the editor in support of candidates on [MVNU] letterhead,” Spaulding said.

In a situation where an employee of MVNU is running for political office, it would be OK to mention where they work as background information. “If they run for political office and they happen to, on a resume, mention where they work I wouldn’t have a problem with that,” Spaulding said.

When it comes to speaking about issues, it can be appropriate for a professor to be identified with the university, Spaulding said. An example he gave was if a professor was on Meet the Press and the host referred to the professor as being from the university.

Spaulding said that it is situations like the Barone ad that lead to the creation of new policy. “That’s how policies are born—to address issues,” Spaulding said.

AccountabilityInTheMedia.com writer Sam Stickle is a student at MVNU. This website is not affiliated with the university.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

MVNU Dean Endorsed Paula Barone

In a school district still wrestling with issues of church and state, one school board candidate won a seat on the board following a campaign that involved a much publicized endorsement from a dean at Mount Vernon Nazarene University.

Paula Barone’s campaign ran both a radio commercial and at least one print ad that made reference to the connection between MVNU and the woman that was giving the endorsement—Dean Sonja Smith.

MVNU is a not-for-profit 501(c)(3) organization. As such, the university cannot make political endorsements.

The IRS gives the follow explanation in publication 557: “If any of the activities (whether or not substantial) of your organization consist of participating in, or intervening in, any political campaign on behalf of (or in opposition to) any candidate for public office, your organization will not qualify for tax-exempt status under section 501(c)(3).”

Request for comment from President Dan Martin’s assistant Laura Short resulted in the scheduling of an interview with Provost Henry Spaulding for November 20.

The print ad that ran in the Mount Vernon News on November 2 was devoted to Smith’s endorsement of Barone. It had the following headline: “MVNU Dean Sonja Smith recommends Paula Barone.” Below that was a photo of Smith and Barone. The ad included a letter of endorsement that was designed in such a way that it appeared to be on MVNU letterhead.

(This ad was published in the Mount Vernon News the day before the school board election.)

Barone told AccountabilityInTheMedia.com that Smith was very much aware of the content of the ad. “The ad layout used Sonja’s name and title, as provided by her,” Barone said. (Click here to read full response from Barone.)

In an interview with Smith, the dean said that she did not review the print ad before it was published. Smith said that the letter in the ad was written by her but was provided to Barone via email and not on MVNU stationary.

Smith insisted that all the information in the ad was factual—she had endorsed Barone and also that the job title used in the ad was correct and even available at the university’s website.

The headline used in the ad was not something that she wrote, Smith said.

Smith stated that the election is done and over with—at this point she felt bringing up the ad served no useful purpose.

She had no intention of implying that the university was endorsing the candidate and anyone who interpreted the ad that way did not read it carefully enough, Smith said. She pointed out that nowhere in the ad does it say “MVNU endorses Paula Barone.”