When the Turning Point chapter at Kansas State was allocated money for an on-campus event on April 5, there was debate regarding the issue from all sides of the political spectrum across campus.
Some students were concerned that the speakers Austin “Fleccas” Fletcher, Elijah “Slightly Offens*ve” Schaffer and DC Draino — all conservative internet personalities — would be too controversial to have on campus.
Other students were worried that funding or not funding the event would be seen as a political stance by the Student Governing Association either way.
However, by granting funding to student organizations, Nils Bergsten, former chair of the On-Campus Allocations Committee and senior in agribusiness, said when SGA approves funding to a student organization, it does not mean SGA and that student organization are sponsoring that event.
For a group to host an event on campus, it must be considered “educational” by the committee. Bergsten described how this criteria relates to dependent and independent student organizations.
“With dependent student organizations, it’s usually fairly easy because, if you’re part of the College of Engineering or part of the College of Ag, if it’s something like that that pertains to what you’re learning in class, that’s usually pretty educational and usually easy to see,” Bergsten said.
“With independent student organizations,” Bergsten continued, “it’s a little bit different because they’re not always related just to a college or academic material that you see, but it might relate to that in another type of way. It could be just learning about other things that are happening outside the world, outside of Kansas State, just academic stuff. Could be leadership activities, too.”
Bill Harlan, SGA adviser and graduate student in data analytics, said the definition of educational value can change from year to year.
“Typically, the committees will define that,” Harlan said. “The different groups of students will define that from year to year how they see fit. Their job is to then be consistent with that definition throughout their year.”
Bergsten also said the definition of educational activities could include information on current events and politics, as was the case for the Turning Point USA event.
Turning Point USA, recipient of $3,000 SGA allocation, tried influencing student elections at K-State
“I think there’s several classes and stuff where you talk about the First Amendment,” Bergsten said. “You talk about free speech and all that, allowing that on campus. You have to be able to hear both sides, or all sides. There’s not just two, there’s different sides to everything when it comes to political speech and that type of stuff in today’s society. If you deny, and that’s the determination that our committee came to, we can’t deny someone based on what they’re believing right now, and especially when it comes to the most basic rights of our country, free speech, freedom of religion. That’s the determination that we made.”
Jeffery Morris, vice president of communications and marketing, said SGA is held to the same standards as the university when awarding mandatory fees, so SGA must distribute fees without regard to the group’s viewpoint.
Bergsten said he only denied funding twice during his tenure, and one of those times was when someone was requesting funding to hold an event off-campus.
There are certain requirements an organization must meet to acquire funding, and sometimes organizations are not fully funded, Harlan said. For example, SGA does not fund food at events.
“Someone might request $4,500 for an event, and $500 of that goes toward food, so they might receive $4,000 if the rest of the event is good,” Harlan said.
Harlan said he does not see the $3,000 for the TPUSA event as an outlier compared to other funding for previous events.
“It does not stand out to me as being different than other amounts,” Harlan said. “The range is very wide from year to year. There’s been some big ones and there’s been some 300s. What SGA considers to be a minor allocation, which is where they vote on them as a bulk instead of hearing them individually, that threshold is $850. $3,000 is more than that, but not outlandishly. The diversity program and committee funds have to be a minimum of $3,000 for the event, so that’s the least that you could request for that. To me, it falls in the middle.”
Overall, Harlan said he thinks SGA has been doing its best.
“From the SGA standpoint, I think those students are trying to do the best they can with all of their responsibilities, and that can be difficult,” Harlan said. “I have not questioned their intention of trying to do the right thing.”