If your campus is anything like mine, the administration is incredibly stingy with resources and inflexible in its policy towards chartering student organizations. Simply starting a student organization requires having all paperwork, including officer roles and faculty adviser, completed and submitted the July before the new school year. Even if paperwork is properly completed and submitted, it’s still subject to be approved or rejected by unseen academic bureaucrats based on budgeting and other factors. For many campuses, there’s a high probability that a new YAL chapter won’t be chartered by the school.
Should that stop anyone from starting a YAL chapter at their school? HELL NO.
The Free Speech Zone
Just because there’s no charter doesn’t mean students should be denied the right to be active. My university does allow non-campus organizations to carry out limited operations on campus. The administration likes to shepherd off-campus organizations into a legal fiction called the Free Speech Zone. It’s basically a particular area with set boundaries. Throughout the 2011-2012 academic year, the Free Speech Zone was the place where you could expect to find missionaries handing out copies of their particular holy book, vendors hawking their wares, environmentalists and animal-rights leftists handing out literature to passers-by, and of course, Yours Truly and his gang of conservatives and libertarians canvassing for the Ron Paul campaign.
I learned a few things about the old runaround while being a Youth for Ron Paul chapter leader. The first thing was that any available resource must be utilized, including the FSZ. Getting access to it wasn’t difficult; it primarily required strolling into the Office of Student Life on the day of tabling, showing them my ID, filling out a simple form, and giving them a piece of our literature for some eccentric administrative record. Then they’d give sticker badges to each of my volunteers which would prevent the heavily-burdened Campus Police from hassling us.
The rest of the process involved the same planning and coordination that tabling always requires: where to meet, who brings what, who will stand where, etc. University Hour was always the time to make a killing with new recruits and voter registration, and we quickly learned to plant our table on the heavy-traffic sidewalk nearest the food court at the Student Center. The Free Speech Zone is an unconstitutional farce and everyone knows it, but we need to have strength and synergy on campus before we call of the FIRE Coalition to help us rabble rouse for change.
Making inroads with campus clubs
My Youth for Ron Paul chapter was incredibly lucky in that the president of the Political Science Club, where several club officers were Ron Paul supporters. They even invited me to be the guest speaker after Christmas in Iowa with Ron Paul, whereupon I was able to talk about my experience campaigning, preaching the same philosophies that YAL endorses, and discussing goals for our schools YFP chapter. That was a great gig for new recruits, and I would encourage every YAL chapter leader to closely network with the Poli Sci Club or an equivalent club on your campus.
Another potential ally could be the school’s economics club. How so? YAL might not specifically endorse a particular school of economics, but we are strategic partners with the Mises Institute and many of the ideas we preach fall in line with Austrian Economics. I was never able to make inroads with the Econ Club with YFP because the club was saturated with fans of Paul Krugman—they even brought him to speak at our school—but I might have better luck with YAL. After all, it’s a different school year and there’s no more election-year animosity between everybody.
If you have friends who are club leaders, you might be able to pull off a joint event. It wouldn’t be a joint event in the traditional sense of two campus organizations, but the school club could invite the YAL chapter as official guests who just happen to be willing to share an equal load of the work involved. If your chapter members can be creative enough, there’s no knowing who you can make inroads with to grow your chapter. Hell, my YFP chapter even drew support from the Muslim Student Association simply because we didn’t believe in needlessly bombing Arab and African countries.
Just never forget: While it’s great to be social, the purpose of attaching yourselves to campus clubs is to network, grow your chapter, teach the philosophy of limited government and free markets, and to promote activism. If you do good work with established clubs, they may even be able to help your chapter get official school approval a couple semesters down the line.
Dealing with Trolls
There WILL be plenty of people on campus who will disagree with you, challenge you, and try to draw you into heated arguments and ad hominem battles. Engage people politely and respectfully in conversation, and exchange ideas like ladies and gentlemen. DO NOT behave like the typical pain-in-the-ass libertarians on Facebook and Twitter who become joke fodder on Ron Paul Problems.
specially if you haven’t gotten official school recognition yet, it’s vital that you acquit yourself well and don’t make needless enemies with anyone on campus. Be friendly, even when you have disagreements, but also don’t waste your time with endless arguing.
Online social networking
Many recruits will have a busy class schedule and other club meetings that prevent them from tabling with you or attending pro-liberty group study sessions. Social networking can be a valuable tool in still keeping your members informed and involved. Many of my YFP members couldn’t be there with us on Tuesdays and Thursdays, but they were willing to meet up with us on weekends and for special events. They were kept in the loop through Facebook.
Benefits of autonomy
Being a non-chartered student organization can sometimes be a blessing. For starters, all you have to do is obey campus policies and not get kicked out. Ultimately, autonomous YAL chapters answer only to the YAL organizational chain of command, not the left-leaning Dean of Student Affairs. Whenever you want to meet off-campus for any reason, you don’t need to get a permit from the school.
When it comes to finances, your state and regional chairs can help you stay legal and in the clear. You should also keep them updated on your activities so they can help you steer clear of anything that would jeopardize YAL’s non-profit status. Everything else should be golden.
Trust me: there are ways to getting around not being chartered. School policies and farces like the “Free Speech Zone” are simply an extension of government bureaucracy trying to reduce our liberty. If we keep agitating, educating, and organizing for liberty, we can fight the bureaucrats. Just as our old pal Ludwig von Mises said, “Do not give in to evil, but proceed ever more boldly against it.”Published in