Phi Beta Cons

Re: Credit for Campaigning

On Monday morning, I posted an article, “College Credit for Campaign Volunteers,” on the NAS website, which brought quick results. Before the end of the day, the University of Massachusetts-Amhest pulled the plug on the scheme whereby students could earn college credit for doing volunteer work for the Obama campaign in New Hampshire. The Associated Press picked up the story (and told it in a manner that strongly implied the intrepid work of AP reporters brought the university to heel). 

Yesterday, I posted a follow-up, “About Face in Amherst,” with more details about the university’s panicked reaction to the revelations of its (probably illegal) involvement in partisan politics. The story, however, doesn’t end there. Today the UMass student newspaper, The Daily Collegian, reports that an anonymous donor was ready to pay for the students’ two-credit courses. This is curious and potentially explosive. As one UMass student wrote to me, any UMass students taking a full course load (12 credits) could have taken the extra two credits for free. Only a student taking fewer than 12 credits would have had to pay. The tuition rate would have been $71.50 for Massachusetts state residents and $414 for out-of-state students, and “pro-rated fees of about twice that on top.”    

That’s to say, someone was willing to put up what might have amounted to several thousand dollars to get these UMass students up to the Obama campaign in New Hampshire. 

As I pointed out in my first article, this attempt to get college credit for Obama volunteers is not just a UMass deviancy. The Obama campaign at the national level is encouraging college students across the country to seek college credit for volunteering, and many of the state affiliates of the Obama campaign have echoed the message. A spot check of half a dozen colleges and universities showed that many are complying. And a separate organization, Swing Semester, is offering college students help in arranging academic credit for volunteering on “progressive” campaigns. 

There may be some students for McCain who have wrangled similar deals, but I haven’t found them yet and the McCain campaign has no parallel project. 

College credit for campaign volunteering is wrong for several reasons. Top of the list: It gives academic credit for experience that is, at most, tenuously related to academic work. Readers who want a fuller account can go back to my first article. Right now I want to focus on the “anonymous volunteer” willing to pay for the UMass Amherst credits. What does this mean?

Are there similar anonymous volunteers at other colleges and universities that are giving academic credit for Obama volunteering? Are they possibly the same person or part of a coordinated group? Is the Obama campaign itself behind this? Will the mainstream media ask these questions? 

The most worrisome scenario is that we have a presidential campaign channeling money into an effort to divert students from their studies, to tempt colleges to engage in electioneering, and to erode the distinction between academic preparation and political participation. 

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