The UMass Chaplain, Activism and Obama

So, this story is out there today about a UMass campus chaplain willing to offer two credits for an independent study in the History Department if students were willing to campaign for Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama. Now, I understand the concept of “academic freedom,” but this is outrageous.

The story is making the rounds on the Web today, and was one of the top links on the Drudge Report earlier today.

From The Boston Herald’s account:

Chaplain Ken Higgins told students in a Sept. 18 e-mail, “If you’re scared about the prospects for this election, you’re not alone. The most important way to make a difference in the outcome is to activate yourself. It would be just fine with McCain if Obama supporters just think about helping, then sleep in and stay home between now and Election Day.”

Higgins added that an unnamed “sponsor” in the university’s History Department would offer a two-credit independent study for students willing to canvass or volunteer on behalf of the Democratic nominee.

Now, I know that this is an emotional election for many. Many here at UMass and elsewhere feel the need to be active in this campaign. There seems to be a growing feeling that the stakes are extremely high this election.

But, we play by a different set of rules in the journalism department.  We are studying, teaching and practicing journalism here. As students, teachers and journalists, we live by the adage: “We shall observe and report.”

Now, I know there are student journalists out there taking part in the campaigns and I strongly suggest you all reconsider such activism. Observing and reporting is what we do. Come to grips with that. You’re on the outside looking in as a journalist. Get used to it. Participating is not an option — even if it’s for credit.


About journalismprof

Steve joined the journalism faculty at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst in August 2007 and has been working to incorporate multimedia across the curriculum. Since arriving at UMass, Steve has developed three courses modeled after his multimedia journalism course. The courses allow students to work in teams in a newsroom-like environment where they work on packages -- using video, audio and photos to tell stories. He is also working with students on developing, a news Web site staffed completely by students. Steve has more than 25 years of experience as an editor and reporter for print and online publications, including 10 as an editor at He also edits part-time for with the NFL and college football network.
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