By: Sarah Tewksbury, Editor-in-Chief
The USM chapter of Young Americans for Freedom (YAF) has failed to meet the standards for maintaining active status as a student group on campus. The Board of Student Organizations (BSO) met for the third time this semester on Oct. 27 at 10 a.m. Two representatives from YAF were present for a portion of the meeting.
Megan Bennett, an English and Communications student, and Paige Pandora, a Finance student, were the proxies for YAF, attending the meeting in their Reserve Officer Training Corps (ROTC) uniforms. Bennett and Pandora’s roughly thirty-minute presence at the meeting was considered an absence because the BSO Constitution states that representatives from student groups must stay at the meeting for a minimum of two hours, unless the duration of the meeting is less than that time, in which case students must stay for the entire extent of the meeting. When Bennett and Pandora left the assembly, YAF became an officially defunct group on campus.
Immediately following the meeting, BSO Executive Board members sent an email to the listed YAF contacts Gus Brown, Shane Robertson and Pandora, alerting them of their status. According to the BSO Constitution, a student group that becomes defunct loses privileges such as voting rights within the BSO, the control of the group’s funding and budget, and “the right to reserve meeting space under the BSO.” As a defunct group, YAF now has the opportunity to initiate a reinstatement process.
Regarding absences the BSO Constitution states that student groups are allowed to submit a request to have their absence excused “for reasons of extreme circumstances or emergency.” YAF will have five business days to offer a written appeal to be excused from Friday’s meeting. If the group chooses to submit such a request, it will be voted on by the executive committee for the BSO.
To be recognized as an official group by the university, defunct student groups must submit a proposal to the student senate to have their constitution re-approved. Once the constitution is reviewed by the parliamentarian and the Constitution Review Committee, it will be presented at a student senate meeting. Three student senate meeting dates remain during the Fall 2017 semester. If YAF chooses present their constitution at one of the remaining meetings, the final decision of whether or not the group will be reinstated at USM will be made by the student senators.
USM graduate Ben Bussiere founded the USM chapter of YAF during the 2016-2017 academic year. The Free Press reported that Bussiere chose to start the USM chapter in order to give conservatives on campus a voice. In its Feb. 6 issue last year, the Free Press quoted Bussiere as saying “If a student is remaining silent because of fear that their opinion will not be the popular one, I will help that student voice their ideas and fight for their rights.” The following week, YAF brought Maine Republican Representative Larry Lockman to the Portland campus as a guest speaker. Following the controversial Lockman event, YAF brought Governor Paul LePage to speak as well.
Once Bussiere graduated in May 2017, group leaders Kaitlyn Budicky and Alex Shaffer attempted to move away from the agenda Bussiere had previously set established. According to Alex Carrier, Coordinator of Student Activities, and confirmed by Shaffer, the two students met with Carrier at the beginning of the 2017 Fall semester to express that they wanted to work towards inclusivity for all students and focus on hosting debates, town hall style forums and educational talks about learning how to register to vote and the importance of participating in government.
The early semester meeting with Budicky, Shaffer and Carrier was not followed up on. There has been no attendance from YAF members at BSO meetings or at student senate meetings. However, resurgence of the group has been inspired by a reappearance by Bussiere on campus.
Acting as an advisor, but claiming no title as the official advisor of the group, Bussiere has been assisting in recruiting members for YAF as well as helping to plan group meetings. Tuesday, Oct. 24 YAF held its second meeting of the semester in Bailey Hall 207 on the Gorham Campus.
Nine students, the faculty advisor, military science instructor Gregory Hayes, and Bussiere were in attendance. Handing out a monthly action plan, Bussiere began the meeting by showing a video of Ronald Reagan and followed with introductions of the attendees and news updates. During the meeting the goals of the group were discussed, including bringing Maine Republican Representative Beth O’Connor of Berwick to campus to give a talk titled, “Get Government Out of Our Pocket.”
As the students at the meeting went around the room to introduce themselves, they shared the reasons they consider themselves conservatives. Bussiere responded by saying he hopes his work will help “return the nation to its founding principles.” Others expressed their concern for the freedom of speech on campus or their views on finance and economics in the U.S. Some also expressed their desire to see the opposition dismantled.
“I’m looking for an end to crazy liberal social justice on campus,” said Jack Hahn, USM Honors student.
During the meeting, Budicky stepped down as co-chair of the group. Hahn was elected secretary, Pandora was elected treasurer, and Gus Brown was elected chair of YAF. During and after the election process, Bussiere reiterated that he was there “to help and to advise.”
However, the notion of an alumnus breathing life back into a student organization has raised some eyebrows at USM, as the events of last year’s controversial events, covered by the Free Press, have led the administration to develop new policies. As a result of some of the controversial events Bussiere and YAF brought to USM, the administration has started a campaign to increase preparedness for any potential future issues. USM’s existing Use of Facilities & Grounds Policy has been combined with new language to create a draft policy for guidelines for bringing speakers to campus. The policy states that any speaker who comes to campus must file an official request that includes information such as the “speaker’s name, a general description of the topic or nature of the presentation, the date of the appearance, and the means of publicity contemplated for the event.” A series of checks and balances is built into the policy to ensure that the USM administration has the right and ability to turn away speakers that could cause more harm than good.
“It definitely raises questions,” USM President Glenn Cummings said. “It makes me uncomfortable that an alumni student would be using the university platform to spread ideals of one political nature.”
Carrier also expressed concern about the nature of the current organization of YAF.
“It doesn’t follow the spirit of a student organization. The interest and organization of those groups has to come from the students,” Carrier said. “We do have groups that receive support from alumni, but they are still student run.”
For the time being, the activism YAF hopes to accomplish will be put on hold until the group can regain official status as a student organization under the eyes of the university.