A Response to the University of Minnesota’s Shapiro Press Conference


Madison Dibble and Michael Ziebarth

During an impromptu press conference Friday afternoon, the University of Minnesota’s Vice President of University Relations Matt Kramer released a series of emails between the administration and leadership of CFACT and Students for a Conservative Voice regarding the Ben Shapiro event. 

Because the University released these emails to the media, we find it necessary to go over some key points and to provide the public with the complete correspondence released by the administration.

The emails can be located here and have corresponding dates for navigation. The released emails span from October 25, 2017, to January 30, 2018, and the packet provided by the University started with emails from December 4. Emails ranging from October 25 to December are located at the end of the University provided emails. 

The University made two key accusations: First, we wanted the event to be in a venue for 400* and, second, having the event in St. Paul is in no way isolated. 

We will begin by addressing the venue size. We began the process of planning this event while planning our Lauren Southern event which took place October 25, 2017. During the planning for the Southern event, the University inquired as to what events we had planned in the future. We disclosed that we planned an event for Ben Shapiro on February 26. During this meeting, we discussed that we were looking at multiple venues for the event. In an email on October 25, administrators stated “Looks like Ben Shapiro scheduled for 2/26/18 in Mayo….She seems to be willing and interested to work through this process moving forward.  I will continue to engage her in this process.” 

That event was not finalized as highlighted by the fact that our event is now in St. Paul. Mayo is just one of the venues we floated while looking for an event space. In the coming months, we placed requests to host the event at Willey Hall, Northrop Auditorium, Ted Mann, Rarig Center, the Maturi Pavillion, and the former Bell Museum. These buildings have capacities ranging from 450 to 4000. Not all buildings are described in the emails as most of this planning was done verbally, but many of them are and proof of reservation requests can be provide. 

During the planning of our Lauren Southern event, our room was relocated from Mayo Auditorium to Philips-Wangenstein and then West Bank Auditorium without our permission (again, proof of emails can be provided). Because of this we explicitly stated that we do not want the venue relocated without our permission. The University used this in their press conference to claim that we wanted a venue the size of Mayo Auditorium by including an email from October 25 that stated, “He did include this note “We will be holding the event in Mayo Auditorium. We understand there is a fee and insurance cost associated with it. This is not an issue. DO NOT relocate this event, DO let us know the additional work will be required to do ahead of time. The event will likely require security.”

Vice President Kramer expressed that this showed our intention to hold the event there. However, administrators made it clear that we could drop event registrations at any time so we sent multiple requests to venues at the same time which is highlighted throughout the emails. 

We did not intend for the event to be held in a venue of 400. That is clearly expressed in dozens of emails. 

Second, we must address the decision to host the event in St. Paul. Vice President Kramer stated that the St. Paul venue is in no way a downgrade. His administrative team highlights the concerns of the St. Paul venue throughout the email. 

After the Willey Hall and Mayo Auditorium venues were denied, administrators suggested that we look at the venues in St. Paul on December 21. No member of SCV or CFACT suggested that we look at St. Paul venues, but the only other option provided by the University on the Minneapolis campus was to host the event in Anderson Hall (capacity 150) and do a live stream into another venue. That is evidenced by the reservation in Anderson Hall included in the emails provided by the University from January 30.

With that, our only options were the Continuing Education Building and  St. Paul Student Center but administrators made it clear on December 21 that they understood that this was an inferior location stating, “Unfortunately, it too is on the St Paul Campus.” They continued by stating, “The best part is the building is all by itself…..There isn’t any significant transportation routes nearby.” 

To highlight the difficulty to reach the St. Paul campus, on January 4, administrators asked if we needed assistance getting to the St. Paul campus.

Clearly, hosting the event in St. Paul is a logistical hassle for most students attending the event. 

Vice President Kramer stated that the St. Paul venue is the safest venue for the event because it was not “porous” like Willey Hall, but many emails contradict that. 

On December 21, administrators stated, “Willey is not going to be a good option due to access from the skyway.”

It is understandable that the University needed to secure the venue and the skyway was of concern, but when compared to St. Paul, it seems minimal. 

On January 5, administrators asked, “One question that came up today was whether you think we would need to lock the building down for this event. The St Paul Student Center is like Coffman in that it is pretty open to the public.” They continued, “Yes, we would need to lock the entire building down as though it was closed down for the night….Access from Bailey and Coffey will have to be closed.”

The University has to shut down access from two buildings and a student center. The University shut down Anderson Hall for the Lauren Southern event, but they are shutting down a major portion of the St. Paul Campus. 

Why is that? 

As one administrator stated on January 5, “I don’t think we would close down Coffman [the student union in Minneapolis] if they were here so we need to at least looks at what’s possible.”

It appears as though the University values the Minneapolis campus more than the St. Paul campus even though they stated that it is not a downgrade. 

Although the University never mentions the ideology of Ben Shapiro, these emails provided by the University highlight the fact that we are getting a “downgraded” venue. Over a series of three months, we worked with the University in good faith that they would do the best to secure the best venue for our speech. Instead, they allowed the risk of a protest to dictate the number of students who can participate in this event.

*On February 12, University of Minnesota administrators contacted leadership for the Shapiro event and notified us that the St. Paul venue would be adding more seats to accommodate guests. The venue added 49 seats, bringing capacity to 449. The additional 49 seats will have an obstructed view due to pillars in the room. The new tickets were given to the first 49 people on the wait list and the event remains sold out.