Rutgers prez enlists students to lobby for immigration reform

The president of Rutgers University is encouraging students to lobby Congress in favor of the BRIDGE Act, a bill that would expand protections for illegal immigrant students.

Campus Reform obtained a copy of the email sent to the entire Rutgers student body by President Robert Barchi, in which he advises students to send automated letters to their elected officials urging them to “support and consider co-sponsoring H.R. 496/S.128, bipartisan legislation known as the BRIDGE Act that would extend the safety and security of DACA to undocumented students.”

Indeed, Barchi even goes so far as to provide his students with a link to a pre-written form letter on the university’s website, streamlining the lobbying process for Rutgers students by providing them with a program that “will generate a letter of support that will be emailed to [their] US Senators and Representative.”

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“Taking action to show your support is easy—it will take no more than a minute or two of your time,” he explains. “The program automatically identifies your appropriate elected representative from your home address. The letter is pre-written, so you may review it before you hit ‘send.’”

Although Barchi explicitly clarifies in his email that “participation in this effort is entirely optional,” taking care to note that the legislation is “bipartisan,” he may nonetheless have potentially violated his own school’s policy on political activities, which expressly forbids using the “name, seal, stationery, and other identifying marks of the university, or of any of its departments,” in “any way that implies the individual or group is speaking or acting for the university in political matters.”

Additionally, the policy notes that while “every member of the university community has a right to participate or not, as he or she sees fit, in the election process,” Rutgers “shall be free of partisanship in its governance and conduct.”

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“It is appropriate for the university as an educational institution to facilitate discussion and research on political activities generally,” the policy continues.“The guiding principle, however, is institutional neutrality in political electoral campaigns. No activity should give the impression that the university takes sides in a political campaign.”

Finally, federal tax law explains that although some 501(c)(3) organizations, such as Rutgers, may engage in an insubstantial amount of lobbying, such an organization would still be “regarded as attempting to influence legislation if it contacts, or urges the public to contact, members or employees of a legislative body for the purpose of proposing, supporting, or opposing legislation, or if the organization advocates the adoption or rejection of legislation.”

Rutgers, though, has since defended Barchi’s letter, telling Campus Reform that the intention of the letter was not to influence legislation, but merely to “give students the option of voicing their opinion in an effective way.”

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“President Barchi understands that students have a variety of positions and that while many support the initiative sponsored by Senator Graham and others, there are some who do not,” Karen Smith, senior director of university news and media relations, told Campus Reform. “The intention of this letter was to give students the option of voicing their opinion in an effective way.”

Andrea Vacchiano, secretary of the Young Americans for Liberty chapter at Rutgers, disagrees, calling Barchi’s actions “inappropriate” and asserting that such statements have the effect of alienating conservative voices on campus.

“I think it's really inappropriate that President Barchi would send that email, considering that there are more than enough resources on campus for liberal activists to begin with,” she told Campus Reform. “It's also a misuse of taxpayer money and just makes me feel more alienated from the administration as a conservative student.”

Follow the author of this article on Twitter: @AGockowski