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Funding for Ayers visit still up in the air

Published: March 13, 2009
Section: Front Page


With the proposed March 30 William “Bill” Ayers event approaching, sponsoring clubs Democracy for America (DFA) and Students for a Democratic Society (SDS) do not have sufficient funding to compensate the speaker and to pay security costs, which in total would add up to around $7,000. After the Union Judiciary’s (UJ) decision to overturn a senate money resolution to help fund the event, the likelihood of finding additional funding sources has decreased significantly.

“We are trying to make it happen, and we are not giving up yet, because we have not exhausted all of our options,” DFA member and event planner Lev Hirschhorn ’11 said.

According to Vice President for Campus Operations, Mark Collins, organizers have promised $4,500 to the university to fund security, which would cover an increased police presence, the possible use of metal detectors, and other basic logistics. Collins also explained that an agreement of $4,500 was reached only on condition that the event be capped at around 200 students and be held in a location with easily controlled access, such as the Shapiro Campus Center Theatre. With these conditions, he said, “I am confident that we could come within the proximity to the $4,500 cost.”

“[The students planning the event] understand and know that we are trying to facilitate this with the budget they have,” he added.

Collins is unwilling for his department to cover any of the security costs involved in bringing Ayers to campus in part because Campus Operations have already suffered budget cuts and layoffs.

“I cannot contribute financially to any speaker coming,” he said. “If I had money, these people wouldn’t be laid off.”

Regardless of promises to Collins, organizers have not yet obtained the $2,500 honorarium requested by Ayers, which would need to be paid on top of the $4,500.

In the spring funding marathon, F-board allocated $1,500 to SDS for the Ayers event and $1,500 to DFA for all semester activities. Prior to the UJ trial, DFA said it would allocate $400 to the Ayers event; it now has proposed to Collins that it will allocate $1,400, although the number could rise to as much as the entire $1,500 of F-board funding.

Outside sources of funding include $100 from the History Department , $100 from the Peace, Conflict, and Coexistence Studies Department, $400 from the Program in Social Justice and Social Policy, and a possible $500 from Brandeis Students for Justice in Palestine, according to proposals submitted to Collins.

Another proposal has been to charge no more than $3 for admission to the event, which could raise almost $600, provided the event be capped at 200 students.

The sum total of these potential numbers is just over the $4,500 that organizers have promised they would pay for security, but the clubs would need to finance Ayers’ $2,500 needed to cover the entire event.

Another issue has been a question of where and when to hold the event. The originally scheduled March 30 talk was to be held in Levin Ballroom; as Collins explained, though, when the costs of holding the event in Levin – which is a difficult building to secure – were compared to the $4,500 collected by organizers for security, “at the end of the day, there was still a material difference.”

In comparison, Collins said, “a smaller venue would seem appropriate to me.”

While organizers agreed to move the event, it is unclear how they will do so, as other locations have already been booked. Collins and organizers have discussed changing the date of the Ayers talk.

“We don’t know what we are paying, where the even will be, or on what day,” Hirschhorn admitted.

Brandeis is not the first university put into this bind.

Georgia Southern University cancelled a planned Ayers event scheduled this month due to financial constraints. Considering the event at Georgia Southern would have cost $13,000 in security costs alone, according to the school’s newspaper, The George-Anne Daily, and in light of Georgia Southern’s own financial problems in this economy, the school chose to cancel the event.

Other schools, such as the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, have also cancelled planned visits by Ayers.

As to another proposal to bring Robert H. King to campus, money for which was included in the senate money resolution that was overturned, it is unclear what organizers intend to do in light of the financial situation. Collins was clear the $4,500 in security was only for an event with Ayers, however. “I am only dealing now with Mr. Ayers,” he said.