UAF administrators put a stop to student poll

Posted: Monday, October 25, 2004

FAIRBANKS - University of Alaska Fairbanks administrators asked a professor married to a state House of Representatives candidate to shut down a class assignment to poll voters in her husband's district.

Lori Merdes, an adjunct communications professor and wife of independent House District 7 candidate Ward Merdes, assigned the three-question telephone survey to about 70 students in a communications class in late September.

The poll answers were to be held by the class until after the election, Lori Merdes said.

"They were to do some neutral polling," Merdes said. "After the election we were going to take the information that we gathered and then compare it to actual outcomes."

Merdes said she ran the poll past the communications department and there were no objections raised. But after KUAC radio reporters got wind of the assignment, she said she decided to instead offer the raw poll data to all four candidates to avoid the suggestion that she planned to surreptitiously share it with her husband.

"I said that, well, if that's going to be the assumption, let's make sure that everybody gets it, so that there is no concern along that line," she said.

UAF spokeswoman Carla Browning said the provost's office got a pair of calls about the poll, leading them to consult with the communications department head, the dean of the College of Liberal Arts, and the university's legal counsel.

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