The Center for Political Participation at my alma mater Allegheny College has started a new initiative called the Soapbox Alliance to promote open political events as an antidote to the staged and restricted “town hall” gatherings and rallies. Allegheny is asking other colleges and universities to join them–spurred in part by a 2004 on campus rally featuring Dick Cheney:
The College’s practice had been to welcome private groups to use its facilities with or without charge, depending on availability and circumstances. Without a relevant policy in place, it had no sound basis to deny this request despite its strong distaste for the idea of a closed “town meeting” and frustration with the increasingly prevalent practice by both major national political parties of selecting receptive audiences to enhance the likelihood of generating upbeat media coverage.
The CPP is asking that “at least half of the available seats must be made available to the general college community through a non-biased distribution,” with the rest going to an organization’s supporter (or whoever they decide to invite).
Although I’m supportive of greater openness and participation in politics, I’m skeptical that many colleges will sign on. Do colleges really host that many “closed” events? Why agree to limit a particular type of event that might generate some press for your university–a type of event that rarely occurs anyway–except to signal your support for civic responsibility and “good citizens”?