Administration, citing lack of space, halts Bernie Sanders speaking event

Democratic presidential candidate, Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., speaks at a campaign stop, Thursday, April 21, 2016, in Scranton, Pa. (Jake Danna Stevens/The Times & Tribune via AP)

Members of the Undergraduate Student Government said today that a proposed speaking engagement with presidential candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders at the University of Connecticut was halted due to the lack of available space on campus for potential visitors. 

The event was proposed to take place Monday, April 25, at 9:30 a.m.

Daniel Byrd, USG president elect and external affair chairman, said USG was contacted Wednesday afternoon by a Sanders campaign representative about hosting a speaking engagement on campus. A resolution was passed at that night’s senate meeting petitioning the university for a facility to host the event, which would be open to students and to the public. 

Byrd said the event would have been a great opportunity for students to hear one of the most important political figures in America right now, regardless of partisan affiliation. 

Byrd said he had been speaking with members of the campaign and university administrators all Thursday to find a venue for the event, but an agreement could not be reached that USG and the Sanders campaign found agreeable. 

 
An influx of several thousand people who are not students or employees on a weekday morning when classes are in session would have been unfeasible.
— UConn spokesperson Stephanie Reitz
 

University spokeswoman Stephanie Reitz said 6,000 people were planned to attend the event, a crowd only comparable to a basketball game or commencement. She said the planning timeframe was too short for what was required.

Gampel Pavilion, Jorgensen and the Student Union were offered for the event if it was made available only to students, but that proposal was rejected by USG and the Sanders campaign.

Byrd said Sanders officials were no longer interested in coming to UConn if that was the case. Representatives of the campaign could not be reached for immediate comment.

“UConn barely has adequate parking for our students, faculty and staff, especially at 9:30 a.m. on Monday mornings,” Reitz said. “An influx of several thousand people who are not students or employees on a weekday morning when classes are in session would have been unfeasible.”

She said thousands would be left without parking. 

Political events are not legally allowed to be hosted by UConn, Reitz said. USG would have been required to be the primary host of the event to work around this issue. 

“We would have been glad to help USG in their efforts if there had been more time and flexibility,” she said.

Outdoor spaces, Byrd said, included the Great Lawn, were also considered. These were discarded because of a rule against vocal amplification during class time.

Byrd said USG is disappointed with the university’s response and that the parameters set by the school were so restrictive that the Sanders campaign no longer wanted to hold the event. 

“We made it clear that we couldn’t do it alone,” he said. “UConn and the student body has missed out on an incredible opportunity that would benefit the student body in many ways.”

Byrd said the resolution by USG attempting to host the event was not an endorsement off Sanders, but a way for students to become more engaged in the political process, and the organization would have taken the same steps with any other candidate.

“We wanted to facilitate a candidate coming to UConn because we feel it is important for students to hear their opinions,” he said. 

Sanders will be speaking in New Haven on Sunday and Hartford Monday.


Nicholas Shigo is associate news editor for The Daily Campus. He can be reached via email at nicholas.shigo@uconn.edu.