Student govt. at Ronald Reagan’s alma mater reluctant to recognize conservative groups
A student at Eureka College, Ronald Reagan’s alma mater, claims that his efforts to establish conservative groups on campus have been stymied by nitpicking from the school’s Student Senate.
Jordan Morris, a student at Eureka, told Campus Reform that he has been trying since the start of the school year to secure recognition from the Student Senate for a Conservative Union student group, which would function as an umbrella for several subordinate conservative organizations, but has repeatedly been rejected on the basis of semantic concerns that he claims have not been levelled against less-thorough constitutions submitted by other proposed groups.
In addition to serving as an outlet for conservative dialogue and activism on campus, the groups’ founders also envisioned hosting events such as a “Reagan’s Roots” conference—for which they made tentative space reservations a full year in advance, pending approval of the organizations when the Student Senate reconvened in the fall—and a Constitution Day celebration.
Morris said that he and his compatriots had secured faculty advisors for the Conservative Union, as well as for three of the five sub-groups—Young Americans for Liberty, Students for Life, and Turning Point USA—by the beginning of the semester, and proceeded to draw up constitutions for each of them, as required by school policy. Two other groups that Morris intended to organize, Students for Concealed Carry and Young Americans for Freedom, could not find faculty advisers and had to be abandoned.
When group members began distributing invitations to Constitution Day in September, however, Morris said they were intercepted by Dean of Students Jeffrey Coats, who informed them that they would not be allowed to host the event because they were not an approved group, even though they had submitted their application more than six weeks prior.
“[T]hey told us that our groups had to be separate, as the Student Senate needs to be able to regulate each one individually,” Morris told Campus Reform, adding that they made the appropriate changes and re-submitted the application, only to have it rejected again.
“We were then told that our constitutions were too weak; then, that there were too many grammatical errors; then, that they needed bylaws; then, that they needed more-specific bylaws,” he recounted, adding, “[t]his fight for approval has been going on for weeks.”
Morris conceded that some of the revisions requested by the Senate were reasonable, such as adding details to better define the roles of officers and correcting the grammatical errors. However, he says that while his groups’ constitutions may not have been perfect, they were “far more perfect than the other groups that have been approved unanimously over the course of the past few months,” including a few that he says were approved before they had even submitted the corrections requested by the Senate.
Morris also told Campus Reform that he believes the applications were delayed, at least at first, because some senators wanted to interfere with the planned Constitution Day event. He did point out that, “one of the more enlightened senators—a liberal actually—offered to take me to the Student Services office,” and after the two explained that they wished to hand out the U.S. Constitution (administrators had been under the impression they would be distributing the school’s constitution, apparently), they were allowed to hold the event.
In October, Morris was finally given hard copies of the rejected constitutions marked up with the Student Organization Committee’s comments, which he shared with Campus Reform as evidence that several of the committee’s objections stem from an apparent hostility toward the political viewpoints presented within.
The preamble to the YAL group’s constitution, for instance, asserts that “government is the negation of liberty,” to which the committee responded, “so anarchy?”
Later in the document, it lists one of the group’s purposes as being “to assist in the recruitment and training of students as preparation for future service as leaders in the local community, state, and nation.” The Student Organization Committee took issue with that portion, as well, asking, “If government is negation of liberty, why prep members to go into public service?”
Perhaps the most revealing comment, though, came in response to the group’s intention “to distribute literature and materials that promote the ideals of the Club.”
“I would call it propaganda,” one of the committee members wrote.
The SFL constitution was marked up even more heavily, and while most of the comments addressed legitimate issues such as overly vague descriptions of officers’ roles and missing information, other remarks suggest an implicit bias against the group.
At the very beginning of the document, the committee observes that “abortion is a religiously-centered issue,” and questions the need for a separate pro-life group when the college already recognizes several religious student organizations.
Further down, after noting that a provision calling for the impeachment of officers who advocate contrary points of view on abortion and life issues might violate the First Amendment, the committee inserted a second comment challenging the very relevance of the provision.
“If there is a right to live, is there also a converse right to die?” the committee asks. “Or do I only have the right to exist on your terms?”
Also deemed problematic was the group’s intended affiliation with Student for Life of America and the Leadership Institute, which prompted the committee to declare, “This group [presumably the Senate] is an autonomous body, not beholden to any other group, except those specified by Eureka College policy.”
Upon receiving the complaints, Morris said he “immediately filed a complaint with the Dean of Students, who made them aware of my complaint, and put both of us at fault.”
Although the Student Senate has not posted meeting minutes to its website since August of 2013, Morris was able to obtain copies of this year’s minutes, and while they are not thorough, they do seem to support his claim that the conservative groups have faced far greater obstacles to securing Senate approval than have other groups that have applied for recognition this year.
According to minutes from the Senate’s October 14 meeting, constitutional changes submitted by two Hellenic organizations—Alpha Phi Omega and Delta Delta Pi—and a Spanish Club were all approved, with Delta Delta Pi’s approval coming in anticipation of additional revisions. In addition, the minutes state that the committee had approved five other group constitutions in a meeting the day before.
YAL, SFL, and the Conservative Union all came up in the following week’s minutes, on Oct. 21, yet each was rejected. SFL was shot down in committee the previous day, but the others were sent to the full Senate, where they were voted down after extended discussions.
The minutes only vaguely describe the reasoning behind the rejections, saying merely that “there were concerns raised about dues specificities, quorum, and certain wording” in the YAL constitution, and that the Senate was similarly vexed by “some relationships between the Leadership Institute and the Conservative Union.”
Another entry in the same document mentions that “Seth informed the Senate that he will be stepping down as Chairman of Student Organizations Committee,” which Morris told Campus Reform may be related to the comments left on his club constitutions.
“I think that the majority of the comments were from one person,” he said, surmising that “the committee chair took the fall by resigning,” though he allowed that he has no proof of that.
Campus Reform reached out to Dean Coats by phone and email for comment, but did not receive a response by press time.
Follow the author of this article on Twitter: @FrickePete