Chaplain Kent Higgins went to the University of Massachusetts' History Department and proposed an independent study that would feature students working with political groups to learn the ropes of the political process.
But the proposal did not include the fact that students would be working with Barack Obama's campaign.
In fact, state ethics laws prohibit the use of University resources to participate in partisan political campaigning. In this case, students would receive two University credits paid for by an anonymous donor in exchange for work done.
According to University spokesman Ed Blaguszewski, Higgins once ran an independent study in which students took an alternative spring break and worked with flood victims and Native Americans in the South. The course required physical and academic work in exchange for credits. But, Higgins next proposal drew the History Department's suspicion when an e-mail sent to students sounded particularly partisan.
"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," he wrote. "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."
As the news spread to statewide media sources and pressure from them resulted in closure scrutiny from the University. Following this, Higgins sent another e-mail to potential canvassers, this time to Republican-leaning students.
"John McCain needs your help in New Hampshire, where the race with Obama is still a toss-up!" he wrote. "Reading this email, thinking about it, giving money, making phone calls, registering voters, and voting yourself are all important, but you're really concerned about how to help most effectively, then please COME TO NEW HAMPSHIRE TO CANVASS - as often as you can clear time between now and Election Day! If you're concerned about the prospects for this election, good! The most important way to make a difference in the outcome is to activate yourself!"
Blaguszewski said the arrangement is not appropriate.
"We are a public university and public universities can't engage in partisan politics - and we got to provide academic credit - that's playing favorites," he said. "You can't do that."
History Department chair Audrey L. Altstadt said the calls for involvement were clearly inappropriate because they appeared to be recruiting political workers, which could not be considered a valid independent study opportunity. Then Altstadt terminated any department involvement with the project and any relationship with Higgins.
Democrat or Republican, student political activists agree with the University's decision.
"It's a situation by situation thing," said Matthew Cadwallader, chapter organizer of UMass for Obama. "If there's a nonpartisan group that's offering credit that the school has approved to offer credit for their efforts, then yeah, that's absolutely ethical."
He said involvement in a political campaign offers valuable experience for those interested in the field but agreed the University should not have to pay the bill.