USG holds Emergency meeting on TPUSA speaker funding

Rachel Dick and Tim Peters

Vote fails to pass; 8-8-4 ruling on funding controversial commentator event 

During an emergency meeting on Friday, Feb. 17, the Undergraduate Student Government (USG) voted ‘no’ to allocate Michigan Tech’s Turning Point USA (TPUSA) chapter $3,500. This allocation was requested to help fund a portion of the $10,000 fee associated with hosting controversial conservative commentator Brandon Tatum. The vote required a two-thirds majority to pass and failed 8-8-4.


The USG had previously voted down the proposal at their regularly held meeting on Wednesday, Feb. 15, during which the body members heard public comments from students expressing concerns for the safety of minority students over Tatum’s previous rhetoric. 


Funding for the event was generally unpopular amongst the student body, with one MTU student who wished to remain anonymous stated that: “I don’t love that my money is going to a person who has such hateful things to say. We shouldn’t have to fund someone who fuels hatred.”


A petition “telling USG to NOT fund TPUSA’s event” was circulated amongst the student body, gathering 285 signatures before it was closed. The petition encouraged signers to “Tell USG that we do NOT want this kind of rhetoric supported on MTU’s campus by the Undergraduate Student Government, and that they should NOT fund one of their events.” A TPUSA counter-petition was shared by Tatum to his near 690,000 Twitter followers, gathering 9,521 signatures. 


At Friday’s meeting, Michigan Tech General Council Sarah Schulte explained that the University did not wish to intervene in USG proceedings based on ideas of shared governance. However, Schulte expressed to the USG that “As a public institution, we are concerned with Free Speech.” When asked if administration would overrule a ‘no’ vote, Schulte responded “the University would be obligated to step in under the law” if the USG did not overturn their Wednesday vote. 


According to Schulte, because it did not appear that the decision made on Wednesday was “content and viewpoint neutral” it violated the First Amendment.


Previously, At-Large Representative Sydney Dankert had expressed similar concerns saying “I think the point about evaluating content is the most important point. We have never done that in the past for political orgs and it is not good to break that precedent.” 


Treasurer Emily Ruf, who had mentioned that she voted ‘yes’ to the initial proposal due to the principle of giving every RSO equal access to funding, explained why she changed her vote to ‘no’. Ruf stated that  “We were told that if USG did not overturn the decision then Dr. Southerland and the office of student affairs would overturn the decision for us. If the University had already decided there was only one possible outcome, why allow a vote to occur at all.”


Other USG representatives added to the discussion, with College of Computing Representative Ben Conlin stating that “it feels like we have been told that we cannot vote no.”


Fourth-Year Representative Griffin Abbott stated that USG had heard from LGBTQIA+ students “crying and begging [USG] to ensure their safety.” Abbott read a statement on behalf of an anonymous student, who implored the body “to stand with students instead of letting administration infringe on our right to dictate our own finances.” 


After discussion ceased, the vote was conducted with an outcome of 8 in favor, 8 against, and 4 abstaining; since a two-thirds majority was not achieved, the motion failed to pass. 


A few of the body members stated the reasoning behind their votes. Vice-President Kaitlyn Black’s reason for her abstention was due to the fact that the Vice-President typically does not vote on motions unless it’s a tie-breaking vote. 


College of Arts and Sciences Representative Cole Becker stated that his reason for abstaining was because there was effectively no reason for any of the body members to cast a vote due to the imminent overruling of the outcome.