On Monday, Feb. 26, the University of Minnesota will be hosting conservative pundit Ben Shapiro in the St. Paul Student Center, much to the apparent dismay of several organizing conservative student groups and even Shapiro himself. The animosity stems from the venue location, with some feeling as if the event was pushed to St. Paul because of Shapiro’s ideology and views. After these accusations arose, the University recently released several dozens of emails in correspondence with organizers in order to clarify why the event was situated on the St. Paul campus. An extensive response from the Minnesota Republic, one of the organizing groups, claimed to have been subjected to biased decision by the University in a “gotcha” moment. Ultimately, it seems as if the University acted on behalf of safety and minimizing protest.
The emails chronicle a long road of scheduling and back-and-forth dialogue between the University and the event coordinators. The emails show that several venues, such as the Ted Mann Concert Hall and Rarig Center, were unavailable due to scheduling conflicts. After deferring to the wisdom of officials at the UMPD, another venue in Willey Hall was also ruled out on Dec. 21. It was upon this information that the organizer stated, “It looks like St.Paul will be our best option.” From then on, a tour of the venue took place and extensive details about the venue (including capacity) were conveyed, with complete acceptance and compliance from the organizers. All that time passed without objection.
Looking at this situation from the viewpoint of the University, Vice President of University Relations Matt Kramer urged, in his recent press conference, that security and safety was a priority and it is clear that the organizers and University were aware of that from the earliest correspondence. Security and safety should be the first priority when selecting a venue and hosting an event, regardless of the speaker.
Ben Shapiro has run into protests on many college campuses, deservedly or not. The University also saw protests at an event hosting conservative speaker Lauren Southern last October. The University is likely eager to limit protest, violent or peaceful, of any kind. Given the history surrounding Shapiro and the University’s history regarding protest this year, it is reasonable that security would be of the highest priority. The event is still happening, in a venue that initially satisfied the needs laid out by organizers in the released emails. We see no way free speech is being abridged by the University’s decision.
Ben Shapiro weighed in on Twitter, echoing sentiments from the Minnesota Republic’s response, and criticizing protesters, among other things. The fact of the matter is, the event is likely to be protested. That is not the University’s fault. However, the responsibility to ensure student safety and that protest is minimized does fall on the shoulders of the University and law enforcement officials. Anything that can be done to facilitate a successful event, while ensuring safety, needs to occur and we believe that University officials have accomplished this without obstructing free speech rights. The event sold out quickly and will happen in a place that minimizes protest. Thousands of students use the Campus Connector every day and any complaints towards transportation should be more persistent, not just regarding one event on a Monday night. Overall, we believe the University acted how we would expect with every major speaker, regardless of the speakers’ views.