Florida students object as Trump Jr. speaks on campus — for a $50,000 fee

October 10 at 4:19 PM

— An appearance by Donald Trump Jr. on the University of Florida campus Thursday night, billed as a “keynote presentation” and covered by student funds, is really a campaign rally, many students say. And they plan to protest.

Trump Jr. and Kimberly Guilfoyle, his girlfriend and a senior adviser to his father’s 2020 presidential campaign, will be paid $50,000 from student activity fees for their appearance.

In a critical swing state where both Democrats and Republicans would like to capture the college-age vote, the event is drawing more attention than the usual campus speaker does. 

The announcement touted Trump Jr. as “an innovator and leader in today’s young business world,” and Guilfoyle as a “sought after national speaker.” Guilfoyle is an attorney and former Fox News host.

Despite the pair’s high profile in the Trump campaign, the students responsible for bringing them to campus say their visit is not about politics. “This event is a campus speaking engagement, not a campaign event,” said Henry Fair, who is in charge of the ACCENT Speakers Bureau.

Tickets to the 843-seat auditorium where Trump and Guilfoyle will speak were free to students and claimed within hours. 

Bobby Mermer, co-president of the UF Graduate Assistant’s Union, said many students feel they are being forced to support the couple’s appearance. “These are well-known campaign surrogates traveling the country for a political candidate,” he said.

Mermer said he wouldn’t object if Trump Jr. and Guilfoyle spoke on campus for free, as candidates have in the past. Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), a Democratic presidential contender, addressed an outdoor campaign rally on the UF campus in 2016 that was attended by 8,000. He was not paid. 

“We would be opposed to the ACCENT bureau using student fees to fund any candidates — Joe Biden, Elizabeth Warren, Bernie Sanders, it doesn’t matter,” Mermer said. “Have the campaigns or private funds pay for it, not mandatory student fees.”

In an email, Fair noted that ACCENT had made a similar speech request of Sanders’s campaign. “Unfortunately, Senator Sanders declined.”

The speakers bureau is part of the university’s Student Government Association, which independently oversees a budget of more than $21 million. The money comes from a fee of $19.06 per hour course credit that students are required to pay. The university has an enrollment of 52,000.

Two years ago, white supremacist Richard Spencer spoke on UF’s campus — though not as an invited ACCESS speaker. He had first been denied access to campus by the administration and threatened to sue. 

Spencer was not paid for his speech, but security around the event cost the university more than $500,000.

Trump and Guilfoyle spoke at Penn State earlier this year, but that was part of a “Campus Clash” tour run by the conservative group Turning Point USA. 

Nancy Thomas, director of the Institute for Democracy and Higher Education at Tufts University, said it’s no surprise the Trump campaign is hitting campuses.

“College-age students were really jazzed up for the 2018 election,” Thomas said, and the midterms saw voter turnout in that age group increase 21 percent. “I think you’ll see an even bigger jump … in the presidential election. The momentum is very strong.”

ACCENT has brought hundreds of speakers to campus since the 1970s, usually without much controversy. Last year’s October speaker, rapper Pitbull, was paid $130,000. Olympic gymnast Aly Raisman was paid $56,000 the following month.

Student government president Michael Murphy, who approved allocating funds for the Trump Jr. speech, is the son of Republican lobbyist Dan Murphy. The elder Murphy currently works for the Washington firm BGR Group and has donated to President Trump’s reelection campaign.

Micheal Murphy posted photos of himself at Trump’s inauguration, and the White House invited him to attend a Rose Garden ceremony in March when the president signed an executive order dealing with free speech on campus.

Students opposed to Thursday’s speech say hosting Trump Jr. and Guilfoyle is part of supporters’ larger effort to turn a blue campus red.

“It’s a pretty detailed strategy to pick the bluest area in North Florida and bring him here,” said Emily Hyden, a 20-year-old junior majoring in international studies. “They knew it would get a lot of attention.”

Hyden and a group of student activists started a #Chomptrump movement after the event was announced.

“Political interests are clearly being valued above students,” Hyden said. “This is all about pleasing the donors.”

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