News: CJ Exclusives

Former WSSU Vice Chancellor Uses University E-mail Account to Support DREAM Act

E-mail violated UNC system ban on use of state equipment and services

Pedro Martinez, an education professor and former provost and vice chancellor of Winston Salem State University, disregarded e-mails from the chancellor of the university and the president of the UNC system warning faculty not to engage in political activity on state time or using state resources.

On Dec. 7, Martinez sent sports sciences professor Himanshu Gopalan an e-mail supporting the federal DREAM Act and instructed him to forward it to “the rest of the faculty.”

Martinez received the e-mail from the American Association of University Women.

“Help Support the American Dream,” the e-mail began. “Write your senators now,” it continued, “and tell them that undocumented students who have known no other home than the United States deserve the opportunity to pursue the dream of a higher education.”

If passed, the Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors (DREAM) Act would allow illegal immigrants who came into the United States before age 16 to gain permanent legal status and eventually citizenship if they attended college or joined the military for at least two years. It also would make them eligible for federal student loans.

Supporters of the legislation say approximately 65,000 illegal immigrants graduate from U.S. high schools every year.

The House has passed the DREAM act, but it’s stalled in the lame-duck session of the Senate. Republicans have pledged to vote on no legislation until the Bush tax rates, scheduled to expire Jan. 1, are extended. It’s unclear when this logjam might be broken.

Gopalan forwarded the e-mail to all faculty, staff, and administrators. He retracted the e-mail less than 40 minutes later, after receiving feedback from colleagues suggesting it was inappropriate:

Colleagues,

I have recalled the message that I had forwarded to you from Pedro Martinez. Many of you have pointed out to me that it is a use of university resources for political purposes. I apologize for this error on my part. Please delete the message if you have received it.

Thanks,
Himanshu

Joni Worthington, a spokeswoman for UNC system President Erskine Bowles, said Martinez and Gopalan were made aware of the university’s policy against using state resources for political activity in the fall when Chancellor Donald Reaves sent an e-mail reminder of it to all faculty and staff.

The chancellor’s e-mail prohibits faculty, staff, and students from using university or state equipment or services (including facilities, vehicles, postage, phones, fax machines, computers, and e-mail) for political campaign activities.

The university’s policy is based on state law. General Statute 126-13 states:

“No state employee shall engage in political activity while on duty or within any period of time during which he is expected to perform services for which he receives compensation from the State … or otherwise use the authority of his position, or utilize State funds, supplies or vehicles to secure support for or oppose any candidate, party, or issue in an election involving candidates for office or party nominations, or affect the results thereof.”

“The president has underscored that as a public institution we have an obligation to remain neutral and to avoid any perception that our campuses are promoting a particular political party or candidate or issue,” Worthington said.

“There’s no question the e-mail was an inappropriate use of university resources and should not have been sent. [Gopalan] recognized the error on his part very quickly and retracted it,” Worthington added.

She said it is unclear why Martinez had Gopalan forward the e-mail rather than send it himself.

Les Merritt, executive director of the Foundation for Ethics in Public Service, said Martinez probably did so in an attempt to distance himself from the activity.

“It would be my hope that the both the provost and the professor face some consequences,” Merritt said. “I think they both knew better.”

Merritt said Martinez’s position as former provost has given him a “captive audience” — professors, university employees, and students — which he should not have taken advantage of.

“It’s inappropriate to use state and federal dollars to impose his opinion and his views on someone else,” Merritt said. “He’s entitled to his political views and to campaign for whomever he chooses outside of state time and not using state equipment or state e-mail.”

Martinez did not respond to an e-mail requesting comment.

Sara Burrows is an associate editor of Carolina Journal.