Over a tense hour and a half on Wednesday night in the Froiland Science Complex, the Augustana Student Association allocated $3,000, the largest sum every approved, to the Augustana College Republicans to invite the controversial conservative political commentator Ben Shapiro to speak on campus, falling $2,000 short of the $5,000 the group originally asked for to cover Shapiro’s appearance.
ASA stipulated that the administration must approve of the lecture before the group receives the funding and recommended that the administration covers the remaining $2,000.
ASA is also allowed the College Republicans to make up the remaining amount through volunteer hours, but the group would have to clock in more than 120 hours by May 1, the deadline for applying for the event, to receive only a maximum of $1,500 from the Service Opportunity Fund (SOF), according to ASA Treasurer Hannah Norem.
Though ASA recommended that the administration covers the remaining amount, the admin, if it approves the lecture, can choose to donate any amount of money.
If the College Republicans cannot raise the required amount of $2,000 from the administration or additional funding from the SOF, ASA would retain the $3,000 and Shapiro will likely not show.
“I thought the vote went well,” secretary to the College Republicans Audrey Cope said. “I was really happy with how the senate was willing to engage the issue and [its] willingness to look at this from a unbiased standpoint. I think through the SOF we could possibly do it, and I am interested to see where this goes.”
Shapiro, the host of The Ben Shapiro Show, is known for his fiery commentary on social politics in the United States. He is an open opponent of gay marriage, LBGTQ rights and a staunch supporter of gun rights.
ASA voted almost unanimously for the allocation, but sophomore Logan Hattervig abstained for conflict of interest. The allocation bumps the Augie Republicans’ total funding for the year to $4,500, making it the most funded group on campus.
The College Republicans paired with the political action group Young America’s Foundation (YAF) which the College Republicans met at the Conservative Political Action Conference this year in Washington D.C., according to ASA President Katelyn Graber. YAF contracted that if the College Republicans could muster $5,000, YAF would cover the additional $15,000 to invite Shapiro to Augustana.
During the discussion, Dean of Students Jim Bies stressed that bringing Shapiro would be an opportunity to learn. He also said the funding would prequalify the event but ultimately the final decision would need to be made by the university and that has not yet been made.
“When we have speakers talking on a broad range of issues, there will always be opposing opinions and the intent of freedom of speech is not to bring voices that everybody agrees with but to bring voices that may cause disagreement,” said Bies.
After the cote, senior Rob Haggar said he was disappointed in ASA’s decision.
“This vote is further proof that ASA has no desire in preventing violent speech from coming to Augustana,” Haggar said. “Any decision by the administration that does anything less than prevent Shapiro from coming is an endorsement of his hateful and ignorant rhetoric.”
Sophomore senator Ryan Solberg asked if the Augie Republicans could come up with the funds by other means, but the organization’s president Corey Albrecht said it would run out of time, citing the May 1 deadline. The group applied for funding on April 4, but ASA held off the vote until it spoke with members of the administration Norem said.
Sophomore vice president for College Republicans Emily Novotny said she did not think it would be feasible to max out the student service hours with finals coming up.
“At this point, I do not know how we are going to do that many hours in that short of time,” said Novotny.
Novotny said the organization has shown that they will work toward getting the funds, citing the $15,000 it fundraised to attend CPAC.
Cope said College Republicans may be able to present YAF the $3,000 and it may cover $17,000, but it would be the lowest lecture the political action group has ever funded.
“But Shapiro has never been to South Dakota, so maybe [YAF] will,” Cope said.
Albrecht stated that our sister university, Susquehanna University, hosted Shapiro last month, with 500 in attendance. The event was co-sponsored by the Susquehanna’s College Republicans and the College Democrats.
Throughout the night, an amendment was proposed to offer $3,000 to the Augie Republicans instead of the $5,000.
“Motioning to give $3,000 is saying no by saying yes,” said senior senator Jeff Glassburner. “We should give $5,000 or we should not give.”
After the vote, Senior senator Tia McKillip said ASA failed to assess the speaker himself and think of the students it represents.
“We saw ASA attempt to take the human component out of our decision tonight,” McKillip said. “ASA needs to recognize that its role extends beyond the formalities.”
Solberg said it is not ASA’s role to debate the merits or ethics of bringing a speaker to campus and that the funding is not an endorsement.
“The purpose of ASA is to give fair treatment to student groups that apply for funding and try as best as we can to balance and hopefully fulfill all of their needs,” Solberg said.
At the end of the meeting, Solberg motioned to create a lecture committee to discuss and resolve ethical issues surrounding speakers, and the motion passed unanimously.
The meeting ended in a noticeable air of tension, with senators clearly flustered.