Former U.S Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich will visit Amherst College Wednesday night. The visit has raised questions on campus about ideology and the allocation of student money.
The event is sponsored by the Amherst College Republicans, a group that was defunct for a decade. Amherst junior Robert Lucido decided to revive it after attending a presidential debate last year.
“There were about 76 people there,” Lucido remembers. “And I was the only conservative there.”
After growing the membership to about forty students, the organization started working to get Newt Gingrich to come speak on campus. Gingrich is currently on a book tour with his wife Callista. Lucido says it was not hard to get Amherst added to the schedule.
“Amherst is obviously a small campus, and it’s very left-leaning. But given his personality, he likes a challenge,” Lucido says.
Gingrich is not coming for free. The price tag for the event is $35,000. The college president’s office and the Republican clubs at nearby UMass Amherst and Smith are contributing money, as well as Young America’s Foundation, a group that also helped with booking and negotiations.
But the largest share is coming from Amherst’s student government. Lucido asked them for $9,999.99. Had he asked for one more penny, the decision would have gone to a school-wide referendum. Marie Lambert is a member of a student committee in charge of allocating money.
“Whenever there is a large amount of money, we always want to look at it carefully because it’s the students’ money that was funded,” Lambert says. “Some people in particular did have concerns because it is Newt Gingrich. In the end, we decided to go with our bylaws.”
Some students, including senior Jake Walters, were not happy with the decision.
“Why are we spending money on having this man who is just a massive implicit racist, but a vile human being? It really bothers me. And the idea that we’re spending money on him is really disrespectful to America and the world to me,” he says.
Not everyone is so deeply offended by Gingrich’s visit. Abe Kanter is president of the Amherst Political Union, a group that brings other political speakers to campus. He says it’s good to have a different voice on such a liberal campus.
“I think it’s great to have such a high-profile speaker, especially a conservative speaker that can challenge the normal conceptions that students at Amherst have,” Kanter says.
Lucido, the head of the Amherst Republicans, says he thinks there will be some protests at Wednesday’s event. But he hopes the buzz around it will increase club membership.
New England Public Radio’s Brianda Reyes reported and wrote this story.