For the first time in over two decades, university steps in on ASG decision and grants controversial club RSO status
The Santa Clara
March 6, 2017
Following a media firestorm and a heated debate about free speech on college campuses, Santa Clara’s administration has overturned the Associated Student Government’s decision to deny Turning Point USA (TPUSA) recognition as a registered student organization.
On Feb. 2, ASG student senators voted 16-10 against granting the group RSO status, sparking intense media coverage. Articles began popping up on local and national news websites, ranging from the Mercury News and the San Francisco Chronicle to USA Today.
People across the country began fervently debating the issue online, some accusing the student government and the university of suppressing free speech on campus, others commending the senators for standing up against the controversial group.
On Feb. 17, ASG’s judicial branch upheld the senate’s original decision following an appeal from TPUSA. However, on March 3, for the first time in at least 20 years, the university flexed its ability to step in and override an ASG decision.
TPUSA is now a registered student organization, meaning it will receive partial funding from the university, can reserve university spaces for events and has the freedom to table on campus to promote events and increase membership. Before it became an official RSO, TPUSA could still assemble and use university spaces to conduct business.
TPUSA campus president, junior Caleb Alleva, said he was pleased with the university’s decision, describing it as “a win for free speech on campus.”
He said that ASG’s original decision to deny the club RSO status was influenced by false information about the organization, rather than logical, unbiased information.
However, ASG Senate Chair Neil Datar said that ASG senators made an informed decision on TPUSA, making sure to gauge the viewpoints of their constituents.
TPUSA is a national grassroots organization dedicated to promoting free market values and capitalist ideals—it is not party affiliated. It has 350 chapters on college campuses around the country, and Santa Clara’s chapter first formed in November 2016.
The national organization garnered significant media attention after launching its professor watchlist, which lists the names and pictures of university professors “who discriminate against conservative students and advance leftist propaganda in the classroom,” according to its website.
Several TPUSA chapters across the country also invited controversial conservative commentator Milo Yiannopoulos to speak at their college campuses, including Miami University, Cleveland State University and Colorado University, Boulder.
Yiannopoulos was recently the subject of media scrutiny and lost a book deal after many people deemed comments he made regarding relationships between younger boys and older men, as pedophilic.
Vice Provost Offers Rationale
After ASG’s judicial branch upheld the Senate decision on Feb. 17, Alleva sent Vice Provost Jeanne Rosenberger a description of why the club believed it was wrongfully denied RSO status on Feb. 27. After reviewing the information, Rosenberger sent an email to the university community announcing that the administration would recognize the club as an RSO.
Her email contained a link to a university web page with responses to each point in TPUSA’s five-prong appeal to the university to grant them RSO status. These included responses to the debate about whether or not the club was the same as other existing campus organizations, concerns over TPUSA’s national reputation, the professor watchlist and the national organization’s connections to Milo Yiannopoulos.
The statement said that TPUSA at Santa Clara should not be held accountable for the organization’s national reputation and activities, and that the club is “not duplicative of an existing RSO.”
With regard to student concern that the Santa Clara chapter would invite Milo Yiannopoulos to speak on campus, as other TPUSA chapters have done in the past, the statement said that an RSO will lose its status if it does not comply with the university’s event policies.
“The members of TPUSA are entitled to express openly their views and opinions consistent with the organization’s stated mission,” the vice provost’s statement said. “The decision to grant RSO recognition to TPUSA-SCU cannot be based on whether one agrees or disagrees with the political perspective of the students who are making the decision.”
TPUSA’s Chapter Handbook
TPUSA distributes a national handbook to each college chapter, giving them the tools to start their clubs and hold campus “activism events.” The suggested tabling events are interactive teaching approaches, most including some sort of game or activity.
Some of the more controversial event suggestions include “Fracked or Fiction,” aimed at educating “students about the fossil fuels myths.” Another is “Build Your Own Safe Space,” to “educate students on how safe spaces prohibit higher learning and free thought.”
The handbook also outlines what they refer to as an “Affirmative Action Bake Sale,” which teaches about the “unfair impact of affirmative action.” The handbook suggests pricing baked goods at differing prices, based on race and gender. They suggest that white students should pay $2 per item, Asians $1.50 per item, Latinos $1 per item, black students 50 cents per item and Native Americans should not have to pay at all.
They also suggest a 25 cent discount on all items for women.
Another suggested event in the handbook is an on-campus movie screening. The handbook suggests screening titles such as “Imagine the World Without Her,” “Climate Hustle,” “Can We Take a Joke,” “American Sniper” and “FrackNation.”
In the resources section of the handbook, TPUSA lists “Hypeline News.” On its website, it describes itself as an online outlet that “gives young, conservative writers an outlet to be published and showcase their work.” They site claims to reach “thousands every day,” by pushing content by “writers (who) have the opportunity to make a difference crafting a conservative narrative for their peers.”
In addition to providing a platform for chapter promotion and creating writing opportunities for TPUSA members, the handbook suggests using the website to expose “liberal bias.” TPUSA members who see what they think may be liberal bias on their campus are encouraged to upload relevant information to the Hypeline website so it can be “investigated and exposed.”
Concerns Over Administrative Transparency
According to the vice provost’s statement on Santa Clara’s website, the Santa Clara student handbook outlines that the vice provost for student life can review and offer guidance on ASG decisions. It also stated that they can also intervene “when necessary if the educational values and mission of the university appear to be undermined.”
However, Datar said that Rosenberger has not used her power to overturn an ASG decision during the 20 years that she has been at Santa Clara.
TPUSA Director of Campus Integrity Matt Lamb said that to his knowledge, this is the first time that a university administration has overruled a student government decision on TPUSA.
Rosenberger met with Datar and ASG President Lidia Diaz-Fong separately on March 3 to tell them that TPUSA would be granted RSO status. Diaz-Fong and Datar both said that Rosenberger told them that their conversations were to remain confidential until she released the announcement later that evening.
They said that Rosenberger did not consult with them prior to making her decision.
“We’d like to see greater administrative transparency with regard to their use of the appeals process,” Datar said.
Datar added that the student court allows senators to defend their positions when they look at a case. He said that while TPUSA members had the opportunity to present their side of the story to the university through their written appeal, ASG was not allowed to defend its decision.
“ASG members are the elected advocates for all (Santa Clara) students. ASG’s decisions are not subject to external considerations, while the administration has to consider external (factors),” Datar said.
Multicultural Center Director senior Isaac Nieblas said he thought that the university’s decision was catering to donor interests, because a few publically spoke out against the decision in the media and said that they no longer wanted to donate funds.
“This not only silences the voice of the marginalized, but it also silences student-run institutions that are meant to maintain what this university values,” Nieblas said.
He said that when he met with Rosenberger regarding the TPUSA decision, she said these factors did not influence the final decision. However, Nieblas is not convinced.
Senior Ahmer Israr, an ASG student senator, publically spoke out against the senate rejection of TPUSA and said that hearing Rosenberger’s announcement was a “relief.”
Israr also objected to ASG’s judicial branch ruling upholding the senate’s decision to deny the club RSO status. The student court determined that the senate did not violate any of its bylaws when it voted on the club on Feb. 2, but objected to how the case was handled.
“While the voting and consideration processes were followed, The Student Court would like to voice their disappointment in the lack of professionalism exhibited by (Santa Clara) administration and the legislative branch of ASGSCU. The Judicial Branch expects that in the future, all Student Court proceedings will be taken with the utmost respect,” the judicial branch decision read.
“Given that members of ASG all mingle together, several students I’ve spoken to have raised the question of impartiality in the student court,” Israr said. “Personally, I believe (that that the student court) is great but I believe that the student body has a right to a check that goes beyond their peers.”
He said he thinks the university had the right to reverse ASG’s decision since the original decision violated the right to free speech on campus. However, he said that if the university continues to step in on ASG decisions in the future on a more regular basis, he would be very concerned.
“I’ve been on ASG for three years and I’ve never seen anything like this,” Israr said. “I am somewhat concerned that this could become something that is routine going forward. Simultaneously, I am hopeful that ASG will be more mindful of the need for intellectual diversity in their decision making so that something like this never becomes necessary again.”
Fox News covered the events in a newscast in early February, airing footage from the senate meeting where students spoke out in opposition to having the club on campus. The Fox News Broadcaster spoke with national Turning Point founder Charlie Kirk, who branded TPUSA’S rejection as a “tragedy.”
“We stand for free markets and the constitution and I’m still trying to figure out how that makes college students feel unsafe,” Kirk said during the Fox News broadcast.
Once the news broke, the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, known as FIRE, reached out to TPUSA and sent a letter to university President Fr. Michael Engh, S.J., on Feb. 17. The letter stated that the organization was concerned about the state of free speech on campus, and contained transcripts of comments made at ASG meetings regarding TPUSA.
“To honor the commitments it has made to open debate, freedom of speech and freedom of association, SCU must intervene to review TPUSA’s application for recognition in a viewpoint-neutral manner, and reaffirm that SCU stands by the promises it makes to students,” the letter stated.
Datar said that although several individuals recorded the Senate meeting, he alleged that Sam Correia, TPUSA’s national state field director, recorded the meeting on her phone “covertly” without requesting consent to tape the meeting. He also alleged that Correia distributed the video footage to various media outlets without asking the permission of the students who appear in the video.
“The pressure applied by the broader (Santa Clara) community on (the) administration was the result of a broad misinformation campaign launched by Turning Point national—a campaign characterized by defamation of the university and perhaps illegal distribution of video taken without the consent of students,” Datar said.
In response, Lamb said that members of the multicultural center and Santa Clara staff members launched a misinformation campaign themselves that “falsely painted us with accusations of racism.”
“We are happy, despite some members of the student senate’s best efforts, that our clubs is approved and we look forward to moving on from this and and creating an effective club that will help educate our fellow students on the benefits of free speech and free markets,” Lamb said.
Addressing the Watchlist
One of the most controversial points of discussion about TPUSA is its Professor Watchlist. Many TPUSA opponents have questioned why an organization that prizes free speech objects to others expressing their opinions. Rosenberger’s statement said that the university did not endorse the professor watchlist, but that it does not have any control over such a list.
Alleva said it was important to note that the watchlist is not tied to each individual university with a TPUSA chapter—it is run by the national organization.
“Now that we are registered, we are not going to hold meeting and then brainstorm for 30 minutes how we are going to get teachers on the watchlist. We don’t care about that,” Alleva said. “Our goal isn’t to get teachers on this watchlist, our goal is to educate students.”
He added that some people suggested that he wanted to start the club in order to bring the professor watchlist to campus, which he discounted as untrue.
“The reason I wanted to make the chapter was to create more space for dialogue for students of opposing ideologies,”Alleva said.
Alleva’s stance, however, differed drastically from what another one of TPUSA’s founding members said at the Feb. 2 ASG meeting. Junior Thayne Kollmorgen compared the list to the popular website RateMyProfessor.com, and said it would be used to inform other students about professors with “extreme views that support dictatorship” and “radical” ideas.
“Rate (My Professor) is in an academic context. We’ll be using the (professor watchlist) in a ‘you’re silencing our speech context,’” Kollmorgen said on Feb 2. “Again, it’s not to demonize or make people get fired. It’s to make people aware.”
According to Alleva, TPUSA now has 50 members on its Facebook page and the group will hold an informational meeting prior the end of the quarter. In the coming months, they plan to host various events on campus to inform students on issues like student debt and government regulation.
Contact Sophie Mattson at firstname.lastname@example.org or call (408) 554-4849. News Editor Jenni Sigl contributed to this report.