American Enterprise Institute funds speakers via unchartered group
April 6, 2018
Peter Skerry’s lecture yesterday on immigration is the second event sponsored by the Eisenhower Forum this academic year that was also funded in part by the American Enterprise Institute (AEI), a conservative-leaning think tank based in Washington D.C. The first event sponsored by the Eisenhower Forum and AEI was Henry Olsen’s lecture in November which was also partially funded by the government and legal studies department. The process for receiving support from external organizations is not in violation of Student Activities Funding Committee (SAFC) guidelines, but it is also not explicitly addressed in these rules.
Bringing Skerry, professor of political science at Boston College and a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, to campus cost $1,500, of which AEI covered $500, and the Eisenhower Forum requested the remaining $1,000 from SAFC. When Olsen spoke last fall, AEI covered his travel costs and lodging, amounting to $250, and the remainder was paid for by the Eisenhower Forum and the government and legal studies department.
In order to receive external support, a student group must reach out to an external organization, which may or may not agree to provide funding. In the case of AEI, the Bowdoin AEI Executive Council was created last fall to foster the connection between campus groups and the national organization.
The Executive Council is not a programming body in the way that other student groups are, explained McKenna Thomas-Franz ’19, one of the members of the council and a leader of the Eisenhower Forum. It is unchartered, and is more accurately described as a liaison and a coalition, connecting Bowdoin to AEI and bringing together six student leaders of campus groups who are interested in utilizing that connection to fund speakers.
“It gives us access to speakers in a way that might be more difficult or expensive to do so,” said Thomas-Franz. “It’s more of a support structure.”
This support does not constitute a sponsorship because external organizations are not permitted to give funding directly to the College or to chartered student groups, said Nate Hintze, director of Student Activities. For this reason, external organizations are not listed on posters for events even though they may have supported the event or covered some costs.
For the funding to not constitute a sponsorship, the speaker receives separate payments from the College and AEI.
“The bottom line is the funding doesn’t come to Bowdoin,” he said. “Bowdoin doesn’t accept outside sponsorship funds for speakers, and if a student group wants to bring a speaker, that’s the prerogative of the student organization.”
Hintze is aware that the Eisenhower Forum has used funding from AEI to bring speakers and that other groups also have the potential to find funding from outside organizations, but he said that student groups do not need to disclose that funding to SAFC.
“It has no bearing on their speaker and what the College process is,” said Hintze. “Whatever the speaker and AEI want to work out … that has nothing to do with Bowdoin College.”
Academic Programs Associate for AEI and Bowdoin alum David Jimenez ’16 helped to forge this link between the campus and the think tank. Jimenez also founded Eisenhower Forum during his senior year at Bowdoin.
The department that he works in is responsible for outreach to college campuses that have demonstrated interest in creating a group similar to the Executive Council. Jimenez said that AEI is active on over 100 campuses across the country.
“The goal is not to really so much start entirely new organizations, but to try to identify what students, what faculty, what institutions are already advancing this cause of robust intellectual debate, and then trying to connect them with AEI resources to make sure more of those conversations take place,” said Jimenez.
In his position, Jimenez manages the connections with colleges in the Midwest and New England, including Bowdoin. He also informs members of the council of different opportunities, such as events or conferences, and sometimes recommends speakers, though he stressed that the student groups remain independent of AEI.
“Ultimately they were in the driving seat of what conversations they thought were essential for this campus,” he said.
Hintze made clear the case of AEI and the Eisenhower Forum is not singular. Other national organizations have the potential to support campus groups, just as other campus groups may reach out to national organizations to request support.
“A lot of these national organizations do have ways to help with speakers and different events,” he said.
“If the [Bowdoin Democrats] wanted to bring more speakers, they’re totally at liberty to do so. But right now the Eisenhower Forum is really ambitious in their programming goals,” he added.
Smart Women Securities (SWS) is one such group that receives support beyond SAFC. SWS is a Bowdoin chapter of a national parent organization of the same name and has direct access to the parent organization’s resources, unlike Eisenhower Forum, which must go through the AEI Executive Council to gain access to AEI’s resources.
Though SWS has not yet used funding from its national organization since obtaining its charter last fall, having that possibility was helpful during its “soft-launch process,” when the group held events and hosted speakers to demonstrate interest on campus, according to Ruilin Yang ’20, one of the group’s leaders. She also said that the national funding would be useful to help members attend national conferences or go on trips.
For groups like the Eisenhower Forum, whose focus is bringing underrepresented political voices to campus, their use of resources from external organizations can have a negative connotation.
“I think the problem is, unfortunately—not that I would like it to be this way—but when people think of non-school affiliated political groups, you get about three steps in and then you get straight to, ‘oh we just want to bring Milo [Yiannopoulos] to campus,’ or inflammatory speakers, which really is the opposite of what we’re trying to do,” said Thomas-Franz. “Essentially the idea is that we want to have the resources so that we can bring academics, as in not inflammatory academics, to campus.”
Jimenez echoed this idea, saying that the two speakers sponsored by AEI represent moderate viewpoints.
“Really, the goal is to have very in-depth, thoughtful conversations about policy, as opposed to politics. This is not meant to be partisan,” he said. “So the idea that we’re trying to be an ideological Trojan horse for any agenda is just not accurate.”
Ezra Rice ’19, who is also a member of the AEI Executive Council and a leader of the Eisenhower Forum, hopes students look beyond its relationship to the SAFC, acknowledging how AEI has supported his group’s endeavors.
“I hope all groups get all the necessary funding by whatever means they can,” he said. “It would make it easier for everybody.”
Editor’s Note, 4/6/2018, 3:24 p.m.: This article was updated to clarify that while Student Activities is aware of this outside funding, groups that secure outside funding do not need to disclose that fact to SAFC.
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