Tips from a Berkeley conservative on inviting speakers to campus
The 2017-18 academic year has been one of outrage and shout-downs for conservative speakers on college campuses—none more so than the University of California-Berkeley.
As an executive board member of the school’s College Republicans chapter, I saw the worst of the left’s pervasive dominance of higher education, and the dire need to continue inviting conservative speakers to campus.
Conservative pundits and policymakers are incredibly adept at fighting the left’s domination of campus culture; inviting them to your school is the best way to ensure all voices are heard, even beyond the confines of campus. In doing so, organizations spark productive conversations about policy, contribute to the revival of sane political discourse, and expose liberal students to new and challenging viewpoints.
While these objectives are well-intended, university administrations often go to great lengths with shoddy stonewalling tactics to keep conservatives off campus.
However, once a speaker has been invited and confirmed, the event’s success is largely dependent on proper planning and promotion. Along the way, there are myriad effective ways to hold universities accountable and ensure a successful event.
1. Get your event sponsored by a university department
High-profile speakers often come with a large price tag, but many schools waive fees if the event is sponsored by a department. If you’re bringing a state representative, ask the political science department to sponsor it. If you’re bringing a lawyer, ask the law school to sponsor.
If your group or department cannot foot the bill, organizations like Young America’s Foundation can help alleviate the financial hurdles.
If the university routinely refuses to sponsor conservative events, that’s a story—reach out to Campus Reform to expose it. Getting headlines is a great way to pressure the administration.
2. Know your First Amendment rights
If the university attempts to condemn and shut down your event on the basis of so-called “hate speech,” expose its subjective ignorance; hate speech is a nebulous term and is protected by the First Amendment.
If the university is creating impediments on exercising your First Amendment rights by time, place, and manner restrictions in a non-content neutral manner, or by imposing large security fees, this is also a story.
For example, attempts at frivolous time, place, and manner restrictions, excessive security fees, and claims of hate speech all occurred when the Berkeley College Republicans and YAF hosted Ben Shapiro in September of 2017.
If you go to a private school, make sure to read your school’s policy concerning free speech; private institutions are not held to quite the same standards that public institutions are.
3. Persistence is key
Administrators are not as intimidating as they want you to think. Don’t be afraid to ask for daily updates on the progress of the event. If the authority figures go silent or refuse to meet with you, you have found yourself in the midst of another story!
4. Get everything in writing
The surest way to jeopardize the higher ground when dealing with administrators is false information or contradiction. Presenting a united front and a consistent factual narrative are critical to your success.
Email correspondence creates a paper trail—and, subsequently, an obligation for the university to follow through on the promises they make to your club. It won’t simply be a game of “he-said, she-said.”
You should be having plenty of face-to-face meetings with members of the administration, as well; interpersonal relationships are the best way to get things done, but have a representative from your club take notes or ask if you can record the meeting. If the university objects to the recording, be wary, and send a detailed follow-up email confirming there is no misunderstanding between the two parties.
5. Refuse excuses
Administrators may attempt to pass off their antics as bureaucratic inefficiencies. Research their functions and salaries.
Refuse to accept “I don’t know” as an answer. Ensure that they diligently help you until a solution is found. If their knowledge does not match the compensation they are receiving to facilitate your event’s success, call them out.
6. Create a clear and consistent brand for the event
The event’s message should be agreed upon by the speaker, sponsor, and student group. A strong social media presence, consistent flyering, and media coverage should include the event details. Keeping the public informed is key.
In the case of Ben Shapiro at UC-Berkeley, the message was “Say ‘No’ to Campus Thuggery,” to highlight how violent tactics from the left and right corrode political discourse, and we were able to weave that into every major story that came out of the university’s stonewalling.
If your clout in the media is used properly, you will gain the support of conservative and liberal students alike in your fight against the administration. They, along with other members of the community, will come out in droves to hear views rarely espoused on hyper-liberal college campuses.
These successes will help you build rapport with your members, peers, and surrounding community. This rapport inevitably leads to the acquisition of more members and media attention, which increases the political productivity and activism of your group, making you that much more effective in your fight against obstructionist administrations.
Follow the author of this article on Twitter: @bradleydevlin