MSU students protest $8 million gift from pro-life donor
LGBT activists at Montana State University are protesting the school’s decision to name a building after Republican gubernatorial candidate Greg Gianforte because of his stance on gay marriage.
Earlier this month, Gianforte and his wife, Susan, donated $8 million to the school’s computer engineering program in exchange for their last name adorning the department’s headquarters.
Gianforte, though, has also donated thousands of dollars to the Family Research Council, a D.C. think tank that identifies as “pro-marriage and pro-life,” prompting the ire of several progressive MSU students.
At a Board of Regents meeting last week, MSU students were given the opportunity to address the Gianforte donation before the Regents voted on the issue, and several rose to voice their concerns.
“This issue is not about differing political opinions. This is about an institutional level acceptance of discrimination and hatred,” one dissenting student commented. “Given Greg’s opposition to the NDO (non discrimination ordinance) and the support of an anti-gay hate group, it is clear that at best he disregards the homophobia of this association and at worst is an outright opponent to an entire population of human beings merely because of their sexual orientation or gender identity.”
Others claimed that Gianforte’s values stand in conflict with MSU’s beliefs and thus his financial donation should be rejected.
“Greg Gianforte’s financial contributions to a hate group and his efforts to prevent the non-discrimination ordinance have clearly demonstrated a contradiction between MSU’s values and Gianforte’s beliefs,” one student remarked.
“Forcing LGBT students to be associated with Gianforte’s name through MSU would make an already difficult situation even worse,” another added, but neglected to explain why the situation is “already difficult.”
Several of the Regents themselves were conflicted on the matter, but ultimately chose to accept Gianforte’s donation on the grounds that the financial payoff would be in the best interest of all MSU students.
“I intend to vote in favor of the resolution. I do so with mixed feelings but I do so on balance because I believe the greater good of the university will be served by the acceptance of the gift,” one Regent said after the students shared their objections.
Other Regents, though, wholeheartedly agreed with the students, and urged their fellow Regents to reject the money.
“I’m of a generation that unequivocally will not stand by the mistreatment of any of our members—Native, transgender, gay, straight, queer,” explained one Regent while visibly holding back tears. “Any actions to the contrary are, in my opinion, untenable.”
Although the Regents chose to accept the $8 million donation, students in MSU’s Queer Straight Alliance are circulating a petition condemning the decision.
“Greg Gianforte is an avid opponent of LGBTQ Montanans. The Gianforte Family Foundation has made significant contributions to noted anti-LGBTQ hate groups, including the Family Research Council,” the petition states. “Renaming the Computer Science Department after Gianforte created a massive setback in relations between the LGBTQIA community and the MSU administration.”
The petition goes on to ask that the administration meet several student demands, including the removal of Gianforte’s name from the diplomas for graduates of the computer science program and the creation of a new task force combined of students and faculty that will “review gift acceptance.”
Several Democratic state lawmakers have even chimed in on the issue, according to The Bozeman Daily Chronicle, vowing to introduce a bill during the next legislative session that would prevent candidates running for elected office from using the advertisement of their names as a “tool in elections.”
Gianforte, however, stands by the donation, saying the gift was simply the right thing to do given his family’s long relationship with the school.
“This gift is the logical next step in our long relationship with MSU and the Department of Computer Science,” he said. “The Gianforte family is thrilled to partner with MSU in a way that will benefit all of Montana.”
MSU President Waded Cruzado agreed with Gianforte’s sentiments, noting that the gift has been years in the making.
“The Gianfortes have been long-time supporters of MSU. This gift has been years in the making and is a testament to Greg and Susan’s strong commitment to higher education and MSU in particular,” she remarked. “We are very grateful for their generosity and the tremendous impact it will have on generations of students.”
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