by Nathan Gower, staff writer
The opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the author and in no way reflect the opinions of the Warren Wilson Echo at large.
Recently, I applied for a caucus grant to help pay for start-up costs of a College Democrats on the campus of Warren Wilson College. Though I am an independent registered voter, I assumed taking advantage of the largely left-leaning student body would prove fruitful. Per the advice of the college attorney, the grant was rejected before it could be considered by Student Caucus’ Grant Allocation Committee.
That the college would not provide funds to a partisan organization, but does provide funding to groups like Spirituality and Social Justice, Environmental Justice, EMPOWER, et all, who are certainly politicized, brought forth the question: just who is eligible for funding?
It was explained by President of the College, Sandy Pfeifer, that due to the college’s 501(c)(3) non-profit status, providing funding for a partisan organization could draw the ire of the Internal Revenue Service.
“When the IRS gets involved, they look for a lot of grey areas. We’re not doing anything wrong, but you certainly don’t want to provoke them if you can avoid it,” Pfeifer added.
Not particularly worried about tax violations, Pfeifer was more concerned with the ethics of the allocation of funds to a partisan organization.
“It just gets down to what do you use student tuition for? What if there is a Republican parent sending their student here? What if there’s a Republican on the Board of Trustees? They’re not going to like that the college is funding a Democratic organization,” Pfeifer stressed.
This isn’t the first time Sandy has had to turn down partisan political groups on campus. In 2008, during the election year, several students had worked on the Obama campaign. Wanting to further their possibilities, namely to attend the rally in Asheville, the group sought funding through the college. They were denied on the same grounds as outlined above.
Simply because the college will not fund strictly partisan politics does not mean the school does not engage in politics. Warren Wilson, along with the other schools constituting the Work College Consortium, has a lobbyist in Washington D.C. advocating for funding to the septet.
In addition, the college has strong relations with Asheville city councilpersons, local and state officials, as well as national Senatorial and Congressional representatives for western North Carolina.
One of the most recent moves towards a more politicized campus was the implementation of an activism fund two years ago. Per IRS tax code, however, certain stipulations are clearly outlined regarding the usage of funds. These can be found on a permanent link on the inside page.
Should the activism fund be used to “influence legislation by propaganda or other means, or advocate the adoption or rejection of legislation,” the college runs the risk of losing its tax exempt status. The College must also “advocate a particular position or viewpoint so long as it presents a sufficiently full and fair exposition of the pertinent facts as to permit an individual or the public to form an independent opinion or conclusion.”
It seems clear, then, that should attempts be made to organize, and should financial assistance be sought through the college, an organization must either be nonpartisan, or there must be equivalent avenues for all represented parties. The North Carolina Voter Registration Form recognized the Democratic, Republican and Libertarian parties, as well as Independents and an all-encompassing Others.
It is with strong emphasis, then, that I encourage you all to organize under whatever reformist party you feel is appropriate. In this upcoming election year, having myriad student-initiated, student-funded, student-lead partisan organizations would only help further dialogue on campus. Taking the issues we so strongly care about and lobbying for change through the existing system is something we should sincerely think about as November comes ever closer.
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