How to bring more prominent liberals to UNC

As published in the Chapel Hill Herald on September 9th, 2006:

If you have a strong stomach and some free time on Tuesday night you can head over to Memorial Hall at 6:30 p.m. to hear John Ashcroft speak. Of course, you might have a previously planned date to wash your hair.

Ashcroft is just the latest in a succession of right-wing extremists to speak on the UNC campus. Other recent appearances have come from well-known conservatives like Ann Coulter, Alan Keyes and Patrick McHenry. There have also been the lesser-known folks like Rush Limbaugh's brother and a speaker billing himself as the "conservative Jesse Jackson."

There is a consortium of conservative groups on the UNC campus that sponsors these events. The College Republicans are often involved, and this week's event is being sponsored by the UNC chapter of the Federalist Society and the Committee for a Better Carolina.

The Federalist Society is a national group for conservative law students. The CBC seeks to increase the conservative voice on campus and came to prominence originally with its protests of the 2002 and 2003 UNC summer reading books -- "Approaching the Quran" and "Nickel and Dimed," respectively.

Bringing all of these speakers to campus is not cheap. The honorarium alone for the Ashcroft speech is $25,000 and the groups bringing him must also pay all of his travel expenses and the fee to rent Memorial Hall.

A lot of the money comes from student fee money. Ten thousand dollars of the cost for this particular speech is covered by student activity fees. The rest of the money has to be raised independently. Hold that thought.

During the past four years, there has been no comparable roster of speakers from the left side of the spectrum. You haven't seen Michael Moore or George Lakoff or any prominent out-of-state Democratic elected officials speaking on campus. There have been a few good liberals -- Paul Begala and Paul Krugman come to mind -- but nothing to match the onslaught of high honorarium Republicans.

There are far more Democratic activists on campus than there are Republicans, so why this dichotomy? It is certainly not because of a lack of interest. Individual progressive organizations as well as various coalitions of them have attempted to bring scores of different famous speakers to campus, usually without success.

As is often the case in life, it's all about the money.

Liberal groups can get student fee money just as the conservative ones do. But raising that extra $10,000 to $25,000 to cover the rest of the costs of bringing a speaker usually has proven to be too high of a hill to climb.

Conservative organizations really value their youth. It is funding from groups like Young America's Foundation, the Pope Center and the Federalist Society that make it possible for all of these right-wing speakers to have their voices heard. There are no comparable organizations on the left, or at least none that have shown much interest in helping to bring expensive liberal speakers to the UNC campus.

Some in the community deserve a hand.

The Orange County Democratic Party, particularly Barry Katz and Nancy Park, has built a tremendous relationship with the UNC Young Democrats that continues to this day. They have been financially supportive and morally supportive as well. But of course they don't have the resources these state and national Republican groups do.

While there have not been a lot of liberal speakers of national prominence on campus, there have still been plenty of events pushing a progressive perspective. U.S. Rep. David Price, state Sen. Ellie Kinnaird and state Rep. Verla Insko in particular make a tremendous number of appearances on the UNC campus and should be acknowledged for their contributions.

Former senator and now Chapel Hillian John Edwards has also been generous with his time in meeting with students, as was Erskine Bowles during his two campaigns for the Senate.

But it would still be nice if the headliners came to town more often. In the absence of large, liberal organizations, it's going to take the generosity of individual donors to bring them to UNC.

I do lots of research for political campaigns, and many of the ZIP codes in Orange and Chatham counties are donor central for progressive causes. So if there's a major personality you would like to see in town, get in touch with an appropriate student organization and work with them to raise the private funds needed in conjunction with student fees to make it happen.

When famous speakers come to campus it should be a great asset not just for students but for the broader community as well.

It frustrates me that year after year the folks whose appearances create the most buzz are the John Ashcrofts and Ann Coulters of the world. If local residents and student leaders collaborate more, there may be a solution to the inequities liberal groups currently face in raising private funds.



This event is tonight, by the way.

It looks like the Ashcroft visit is having exactly the intended effect - creating dialogue.

The DTH had an article almost exactly two years ago that addressed the difference in spending on speakers between conservative and liberal groups, and provided a pretty good explanation of why conservative groups bring in higher profile speakers.

"David Rutledge, president of the Federalist Society, said liberal groups might not be as motivated to bring speakers to campus because their opinions often reiterate views that already are discussed.

'One conservative leaning teacher's not going to get everybody talking, but you get these other people in ... and they're successful because it's not the norm,' Rutledge said.

He said the best way to create dialogue is to catch people's attention with a speaker who has name recognition.

'With the way universities are slanted, (having) the speakers come to campus ... is the only outlet to get discourse going,' he said."

Here is the entire article:

Paying him $25,000 is disgusting.

I think spending $25K is disgusting, but for some context I inquired about Pres. Carter and it was six figures.

So what if we got a "liberal" to come speak for $25,000? That bozo would be putting money ahead of taking some personal responsibility for stopping our impending societal train wreck.

Amen, ethan.

Of course, that suggests another possible solution to this lack of liberal/progressive speakers.

Perhaps they could deign to speak to students for a night for, say $5000? $10,000?

I'm sure there are plenty of progressive speakers who would be happy to speak for less than $5-10K.

He said the best way to create dialogue is to catch people's attention with a speaker who has name recognition.

‘With the way universities are slanted, (having) the speakers come to campus … is the only outlet to get discourse going,' he said.”

This is nonsense. The only way to have a dialogue is to have wealthy conservative activists and mental midgets like Ann Coulter and John Ashcroft give lectures? Apparently Rutledge thinks college students are idiots.

Don't forget the wealthy liberal activists.

"Former senator and now Chapel Hillian John Edwards has also been generous with his time in meeting with students, as was Erskine Bowles during his two campaigns for the Senate."

It's also interesting that with 10k in public money, while speaking in a public building, Mr Ashcroft refused to speak if his comments were going to be recorded.

He also declined to speak with reporters, which, in my mind, does not exactly advance the public dialogue.

At least he's consistent in restricting the public's right to know even after he's out of office. His people said that Mr Ashcroft is avery private man...even though he's been in public office for three decades.


One aspect of this that hasn't been mentioned is that there are likely huge numbers of students who see through both the Republican and Democratic parties' betrayal of the country. Leaders such as Price, Edwards, and Bowles - while loosely termed "liberal" - are quite far from offering any sort of inspirational message or leadership that realistically addresses the mess we have to deal with. By focusing on the false dichotomy of Young Republicans & Young Democrats, we limit our ability to see what the possibilities are.

I agree Mark M. There needs to be support for formal discussion on the UNC campus of political ideologies beyond those held by Republicans and Democrats. Outside of Poetical Science classes that is. I mean why wouldn't the Chancellor support this idea? Its a fair and balanced campus opened to all peaceful ideologies right? :)

John Ashcroft? You must be kidding me. I am stunned. Former Attorney General John Ashcroft should pray daily that the Democrats do not control Congress. He violated the Constitution in multiple different ways. From a simple conflict of interest when he was investigating the leak of Valerie Plame's name. To the more serious, incarcerating Americans (Hamdi, Jose Padilla) without charges, without access to counsel which is a clear violation of the Constitution.

So what did he say? He say anything about not wanting to go to jail for the rest of his life?

Where's the Outrage?

It seems to me that UNC should never bring to campus speakers who are not willing to have such talks taped, for posterity's sake if nothing else. We (the taxpayers) who payed for Ashcroft's talk
deserve to be able to replay it on the internet, for example.

Is this really in keeping with the University's policies?
Give me a break!

Just for the sake of clarity, "We (the taxpayers)" did not pay for Ashcroft's speech. Of the $25,000 speaking fee, student activity fees (to which I contribute) paid $10,000 and private donations paid $15,000.

I stand corrected on the payment matter.
Who did pay the $15,000 in private funds (plus the travel expenses and rental fee for Memorial Hall)? If it
was the Federalist Society, then can we know who are their
UNC funders on this event (or in general)? Would the
real funders please stand up!

Nevertheless, In all events, I'd think UNC would have a policy that such talks should be recorded for posterity, and available on the internet for all to see.....mainly because it is important for our democracy to be able to hear what such people on all sides of the issues have to say. Further, students' activity fees helped pay for it, yet not all students can fit into Memorial Hall, so they should have the opportunity to see it later.

It seems to me that people with confidence in themselves, and in their views, would not mind being recorded. Bring those confident people to UNC...they (on all sides of the issues) are going be the best role models for the students!

Ashcroft is just a ball-less punk...oh, sorry...

I don't know why you left wingers are so upset. You have more than your share of liberals on the payroll that teach these young minds day in and day out. Are you threaten by a one night stand right winger who could care less about dancing on the lawn(?) in front of Weaver Street Market?

Liberals on the payroll? By current, neocon right-wing standards, all the founders of our country would be considered left-wing liberals. Think about it.

The "liberal" approach of encouraging people to think for themselves is of course what a university is all about. This approach is I suppose threatening to those who believe they can classify people's views into simplistic catetogies such as "left wing" or even "liberal" when it is used in such a simplistic way.

Note also that there are many right wingers who are "so upset" that they are fighting for what they believe, out in public (where their speeches can be recorded). For example, look at what current right wing senators such as John McCain and Lindsay Graham are saying in today's news.

I don't know why you left wingers are so upset.

That's a joke, right? The Republicans in control of the federal government are in the process of ending Habeas Corpus, for Pete's sake.

We don't have a democracy in this country. It's a kleptocracy and they're in the process of writing most of us out of our Constitutional protections.

And, yes, John Ashcroft is member in good standing of the Bush Gang.


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