YOUNG AMERICANS FOR FREEDOM (copy)

Student Kara Bell led the UW-Madison chapter of Young Americans for Freedom to national recognition.

PHOTO BY MICHELLE STOCKER

Young America’s Foundation, a national conservative youth program that has played a key role in the college campus controversy over freedom of speech, has named University of Wisconsin-Madison as its affiliate chapter of the year.

The foundation is influential in conservative circles, boasting such alumni as Trump adviser Stephen Miller and Attorney General Jeff Sessions. Vice President Mike Pence spoke at the foundation’s annual student conference in Washington D.C. earlier this month, where he praised YAF as "a bulwark of American greatness," and noted his 15-year involvement with the organization.

The foundation honored the UW-Madison chapter of Young Americans for Freedom for its hosting of conservative commentator Ben Shapiro last November, where protests erupted that became a flash point for debate about free speech on campus.

The protest colored debate over a state legislative bill requiring the expulsion of students who interrupt guest speakers on UW campuses. In response, the UW System Board of Regents adopted a policy promising to cultivate an “environment where civil discussions can occur.”

The foundation, which had bankrolled Shapiro’s appearance at UW-Madison, awarded the campus student group $10,000. UW-Madison YAF’s chapter’s profile and membership had grown greatly since student Kara Bell became chair in fall, 2016, an announcement on the award reports.

The national groups is funded by the Koch Brothers and other conservative luminaries, and pays for appearances by conservative speakers at campuses across the country.

A dramatic account of the UW-Madison chapter’s activities on the foundation’s website lauds its role in countering anti-Campus Carry efforts, responding to campaigns related to Black Lives Matter and flagging the existence of a controversial UW-Madison course on white supremacy.

It also accuses campus officials of trying to muzzle the group.

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“UW–Madison administrative officials instructed the YAF chapter to cease all activity and involvement with issues that students may disagree with,” the foundation said. The student chapter was also subjected to investigations by the campus administration, according to the YAF website.

“At no time did anyone at UW-Madison tell YAF to cease activities and involvement with controversial issues,” UW-Madison spokeswoman Meredith McGlone said Thursday.

As far as investigating the group, McGlone said that campus officials received three complaints that YAF had violated the code of conduct for registered student organizations. “We investigated them as we would a complaint against any student organization, following our policies and procedures. The complaints were dismissed and YAF remains in good standing as a student organization.”

The foundation also named four runner-up campus affiliates, all of which were involved in bringing controversial conservative speakers to their campuses. They are the affiliates at: University of Buffalo, University of Notre Dame, California State University-Los Angeles, and Southern Methodist University.

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