MINNEAPOLIS (KMSP) - The University of Minnesota is pushing back against criticism of its handling of an upcoming visit by a conservative author.
Ben Shapiro is set to appear on campus later this month.
Members of the groups bringing Ben Shapiro to the University of Minnesota campus attended Friday’s press conference as Vice President of University Relations Matt Kramer addressed criticism of the university's decision to place the speech at the St. Paul student center.
“I’ve seen remarks that say St. Paul is exile,” said Kramer. “The St. Paul campus is integral to the University of Minnesota. It is no different than the East Bank campus or the West Bank campus.”
Shapiro's appearances on other campuses have sparked protests, like these at the University of California-Berkeley last year. U of M officials anticipate protests on their campus as well.
“We worked with all three student groups, from the first day of finding a venue that met their needs and that also met the needs as defined by the police department, to again, to protect the students, to protect their speaker to protect the protesters and our property,” said Kramer.
Madison Dibble with Students for a Conservative Voice appreciates the university's efforts, but says officials are missing the point.
“The point isn’t they didn’t try to accommodate our event at all, but the point is, there’s a discrepancy in how conservative groups have to host their events and how liberal groups have to host their events,” said Dibble.
She's supporting a proposed 'campus neutrality' bill by Sen. Carla Nelson of Rochester requiring state-funded universities to develop free speech policies and define on student-on-student harassment.
“This issue stems from a larger problem of students being able to target conservative events, vandalize bridge panels without punishment, without further action against them,” said Dibble.
Kramer wouldn't address the bill directly, but said this situation is not an example of ideological bias. He says staff is working to add additional seats to the venue.
The students say they'd still like a larger venue, but at the end of the day, they want the speech to go on.