The Kennedy Political Union brought 25 men and 10 women as speakers to campus, excluding Capitol Steps and the D.C. Democratic Primary Mayoral Debate over the past four years.
“I would like to see more female speakers,” Alex Hoffman, the president of AU College Democrats, said. “Granted, I thought Lilly Ledbetter was fantastic, I thought that was great. But I could easily see them bringing more female speakers next year.”
According to KPU Director Chandler Thornton, KPU reached out to several female members of Congress this year but had trouble scheduling event dates that would work for both parties.
“I’m confident that with the contacts that we’ve made this year, the next KPU director will use the strides we made in contacting speakers and those contacts will be translated into events,” Thornton said.
Molly Kepner, the student government vice president-elect, sympathized with the difficulties of scheduling speakers, citing her experience bringing notables to campus for College Republicans.
“It’s very difficult because you have contracts fall through and you have speaker dates fall through,” Kepner said. “I’m sure Chandler has reached out to plenty of women and they just haven’t worked out. But what people see is just ‘oh, there’s another man coming to campus,’ they don’t see the behind the scenes work.”
KPU brought five more Democrats than Republicans
Over the past four years, KPU has brought 12 Democrats and seven Republicans as speakers.
Since its founding in 1968, KPU has identified itself as a non-partisan organization, according to its mission statement.
“We don’t have any affiliation with any political views at all,” Thornton said. “We’re non-partisan, and we don’t endorse any of the views of our speakers.”
Of the 38 events hosted by KPU in the past four years:
*12 featured independents (of which seven lean liberal, one leans republican, and four are non-partisan)
*11 featured Democrats
*six featured Republicans (one of which identifies as a libertarian)
*four satire events
*three featured non-political speakers
*one Marxist speaker
*one communist speaker
Additionally, one event featured both Bill Richardson, a Democrat and Tim Pawlenty, a Republican.
“We’ve really worked at bringing a diverse group of speakers not only in demographics but in background and view,” Thornton said. “We don’t look at diversity solely through gender or race, but we look at speakers from a variety of backgrounds.”
AU College Republicans co-sponsored Dr. Ron Paul, S.E. Cupp and former Vice President Dick Cheney with KPU this year, according to AUCR President Lucy Lohrmann.
“Since most universities just by nature are more liberal-leaning, conservative students are at a disadvantage to hearing speakers which fit their political ideology,” AU College Republicans President Lucy Lohrmann said. “We may never see that trend change, at least for a long time, but KPU has done a truly wonderful job this year of including Republican, conservative and libertarian speakers in their lecture series.”
KPU brought variety of professions as speakers
KPU, while founded on the premise of bringing politically relevant speakers to campus, also hosted people of other professions over the past four years.
KPU sponsored events with 12 politicians, 10 members of the media, six activists, four comedy acts, two army generals, one political analyst, one musician, one runner, one security consultant and one speech writer. KPU is also working to reschedule the event for D.C. Police Chief Cathy Lanier.
Kepner said that increasing the types of speakers that AU brings to campus would enhance KPU, suggesting that more figures in sports, business and other fields could come and speak as well.
“A really important part of that is sitting down in the summer and having a concrete schedule,” Kepner said. “It’s a lot easier to plan to have a diverse speaker base if you are doing it that far ahead. That’s probably my biggest goal.”
When picking speakers, KPU staff members meet together before the school year to discuss potential events.
“KPU keeps in mind that we have a very diverse group of students here on campus who represent a wide array of political views,” Thornton said. “When we’re looking at speakers, we try to find people who are relevant today. We just try to bring people that are important leaders in Washington and beyond that can allow for a respectful discourse and dialogue on campus.”
Students are welcome to suggest speakers on KPU’s website and they receive about five suggestions a week from the student body. Two of the speakers from this year were pursued due to being suggested by the student body, according to Thornton.
Kepner said that while KPU has room to improve, the people who work there don’t get enough credit.
“They work really hard to bring what this campus wants, but oftentimes we forget because we only see the names on the Facebook and Twitter pages,” Kepner said.
KPU held 13 events for the 2013-2014 academic year, a 44 percent rise over the last academic year.
KPU became more serious with negotiations, cutting costs in speaking fees and other areas in order to afford to bring more speakers, Thornton said.
KPU received $202,750 for the 2013 fiscal year, which began on May 1, 2013 and will end April 30, 2014. The current budget is a 10 percent increase from the previous fiscal year.
The KPU budget has increased each of the past four years. During the 2010 fiscal year, KPU was allotted $173,150. In the 2011 fiscal year, KPU’s budget stood at $183,200 and in the 2012 fiscal year, KPU’s budget increased to $184,000, The Eagle previously reported.
“We innovated the way that we brought in co-sponsorship money and managed to work with many organizations in having them contribute them to our events and helping us financially, and that helped a great deal,” Thornton said. “We managed to maximize our events. We had a few events that didn’t cost any money.”
Co-sponsors for KPU this year have included AU College Democrats, AU College Republicans, the Center for Diversity and Inclusion and the Political Theory Institute.
“KPU, I think, has done a good job in recent years of bringing good speakers,” Thornton said, “but we’re trying to bring it to the next level.”