College Dems: still out of control?
During the last presidential election, this page cited many close breaches of University policy when it came to the College Democrats. From the October debate through the election, the College Dems blurred the line between acceptable political speech and jeopardizing the University’s tax-exempt status.
Of particular concern was the Dems’ hosting of speakers for partisan, rather than intellectual, purposes. They brought gubernatorial candidate Bob Holden to a debate-watching party, for instance. Weeks later, the Dems brought failed presidential candidate Bill Bradley to Graham Chapel. Despite warnings from Student Union President Michelle Purdy, Bradley used his time to make a “shameless pitch” for Al Gore.
These events violated the University’s rule on political speakers, which “requires that the University remain politically neutral.” Direct or indirect involvement in a political campaign is prohibited, as is the use of University funds for the support of any candidate, campaign, party, or PAC. Above all, speakers cannot come to campus for a campaign rally or event.
But perhaps the larger problem was that SU was throwing out money to this group without checking to see that they were spending the funds in a manner consistent with University policy. SU also sponsored ideologically biased educational forums earlier in the semester, ranging from “reproductive rights” (a liberal euphemism for abortion) to environmental and economic forums without conservative voices.
SU did a much better job this time around. In particular, the Educate Yourself discussion series was well balanced in point of view, though abortion was still framed in liberal-friendly “reproductive rights” terms. Still, that panel included an important Catholic ethicist, and SU-funded Assembly Series speakers came from both sides of the political spectrum.
The Dems played political hardball yet again, though they did not earn public rebukes from administrators for jeopardizing the University’s tax-exempt status. For the debates, they hosted an “unofficial” gathering of Democratic students, all of whom had purchased pink t-shirts from the College Dems shortly beforehand. The shirts were paid for by fundraised money, not SU funds, although it is unclear where the flyers listing these “unofficial” gatherings came from. At least the Dems were smart enough not to stamp their logo on them.
There is an easy way to put aside, once and for all, concerns that students’ political activities will hurt the University via SU funding: spin off SU from the University. By incorporating SU as a separate organization, the University could free itself from liability for SU’s and student groups’ actions. Students would also benefit, since they would not have to deal with political restrictions on how their activities fees are spent.
These concerns probably will not surface again for another four years, but it never hurts to plan ahead.
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