Do you know where your coworkers stand on the upcoming
election? Is it because they hang campaign posters
in their cubicles? Or wear party pins on their lapels?
Or chatter politics at the water cooler?
Or do your morning pleasantries deteriorate into
backbiting and name calling that look and sound like
an episode of FOX News’ The O’Reilly
Factor or MSNBC’s Hardball with Chris
“I’ve never witnessed people getting
into physical altercations over political issues
at work. I think it’s extraordinarily unlikely.
But people do get intense about strongly held beliefs,” says
David Redlawsk, professor of political science in
the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences. “Politics
can be very contentious. I think most people understand
the difference between their workplace and the rest
of their lives.
“You’re going to have to work with people
you may not agree with.”
Redlawsk and his fellow political science professors
talk politics because it’s part of the intellectual
nature of their jobs. They encourage wide-ranging
debate in their classrooms on just about any topic.
In most offices and departments on campus, though,
conversations about politics can make people uncomfortable—often
because politics has nothing to do with their jobs.
Teresa Kulper, director of faculty and staff services
in Human Resources’ Organizational Effectiveness,
teaches conflict management in UI Learning & Development
She says that spirited but respectful discussions
are fine, but that people get in trouble when they
try to get coworkers to change their minds and could
end up compromising working relationships.
“If I’m going to try to get you to see
it my way, we could fight and get angry. You’re
going to think I don’t like you or that I think
you’re a bad coworker,” Kulper says. “We’ll
just go around in circles and it doesn’t get
us anywhere. It might negatively affect our work
down the road.”
She sees it as acceptable to tell people at work
which candidate you support. When the talk turns
negative and hateful—that’s where she
draws the line.
“When you start attacking the candidates personally,
it can lead to incivility in the workplace,” she
says. “To attack someone is not part of civil
discussion. It all comes back to supporting and celebrating
different opinions, whether or not they are political
Trying to promote and increase civility on campus
is part of Office of the Ombuds-person’s mission.
Maile Sagen, University ombudsperson, has fielded
a few phone calls of concern already, wondering what
is considered acceptable and civil in regard to political
discussions and paraphernalia on campus. The following
are her recommendations:
• Be careful about what you display on your
office walls and refrain from displaying anything
political that might be construed by the public as
the University’s point of view—or it
could be removed.
• Do not use campus mail, your office computer,
your office phone, or University stationery to campaign
or lobby for political candidates or to solicit votes
or contributions in any way.
• Don’t argue. If uncomfortable political
conversations arise, try to change the subject and,
if that doesn’t work, simply say you do not
want to discuss it further. Agreeing to disagree
is often the best solution.
• Be collegial and do not let the political
situation affect your ability to do your job.
“As a university, we care about free speech,
and people are free to state their own opinions.
At the same time, we want people to be sensitive,
and we want to have a respectful workplace,” Sagen
says. “If people’s ability to do their
jobs is affected, that’s where the ombudsperson’s
office will step in.
“Otherwise, if all is going well and people
are being respectful and sensitive, we’re not
going to get involved.”
University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics is sending
out reminders to its staff this fall, detailing inappropriate
behavior and common courtesies related to political
The guidelines are based, in part, on aspects of
the UI Hospitals and Clinics Service Leadership initiative—which
asks employees to make an individual commitment to
Two important elements of this initiative are the “I
CARE” (Integrity, Commitment, Accountability,
Respect, and Empathy) Core Values and the 15 House
Rules—including “take the time for courtesy
and consideration,” “maintain dignity,” “help
each other,” and “respect our differences.”
“Our service leadership and working-together
principles here at the hospital remind us that we
are here to focus on the patient and focus on our
jobs. Politics doesn’t play a part in that,” says
Diana Lundell, codirector of the hospital’s
Joint Office for Marketing and Communications. “Most
people are working hard at their jobs while they’re
here and saving extracurricular political activities
for after work hours.”
It can be tough to leave your political identity
at home when you’re a political scientist.
Tim Hagle, associate professor of political science
in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, teaches
classes on constitutional law, politics, and the
judicial system. He also advises the student organizations
College Republicans and Students for George W. Bush
and is an active member of the Republican Party in
His office is covered with campaign memorabilia,
and he admits “once you get in my office, you
know where I stand.” But overall, he says,
he tries to be low key—whether it’s with
other faculty or staff, or in the classroom.
“Bottom line is, everyone has to deal with
the situation with a good dose of common sense,” he
says. “Don’t go overboard. Don’t
by Amy Schoon