Misconceptions plague U’s Ayn Rand group

The Ayn Rand Study Group educates others on Rand’s philosophy of objectivism.

Dr. Eric Daniels, Research Assistant Professor at Clemson University's Institute for the Study of Capitalism, speaks about the importance of knowing why free speech is important Thursday, April 11, 2013, at Coffman Union. The University Ayn Rand Study Group hosted the talk, as the topic of free speech and censorship are closely tied to the philosophies of Ayn Rand.

Emily Dunker

Dr. Eric Daniels, Research Assistant Professor at Clemson University’s Institute for the Study of Capitalism, speaks about the importance of knowing why free speech is important Thursday, April 11, 2013, at Coffman Union. The University Ayn Rand Study Group hosted the talk, as the topic of free speech and censorship are closely tied to the philosophies of Ayn Rand.

Roy Aker

Although the Ayn Rand Study Group has been on campus for four years, its members still feel misunderstood by the campus community.

Its panel on the Washington Avenue Bridge was vandalized in January and the group received no student services fees for 2013-14 — a result of the misconceptions members say they face for studying Rand’s ideals.

“Some people probably think [we’re] like a cultish sort of a thing,” said group president Katie Cowles.

The group, which has 10 regular members, studies Ayn Rand’s novels and philosophy.

Her writings stress objectivism, or the idea that reality is an “objective absolute, — facts are facts, independent of man’s feelings, wishes, hopes or fears,” according to the Ayn Rand Institute.

Melanie Hoffman, the group’s adviser, said comprehension of the philosophy’s four branches: objective reality, reason, rational self-interest and capitalism are essential to have a complete understanding.

“There is a misunderstanding of Rand’s philosophy,” she said. “[The group] is an easy target for people to say this is what’s wrong with Rand and her philosophy.”

Cowles said some students think the group wants to push its ideological agenda on them.

“We’re not trying to convert everyone, we’re really just there to educate people about the philosophy and present a new philosophy that most students aren’t aware of,” Cowles said.

Rand, who gained notoriety in the mid-20th century for her works “Atlas Shrugged“ and “The Fountainhead,” has become a symbol for many modern-day libertarians.

But Hoffman said Rand wouldn’t have aligned herself with any political party out there right now.

The Ayn Rand Study Group isn’t about worshiping Rand or attached with any one political party, said psychology sophomore Megan Mansfield.

“I see what [Rand] has written as a way to think about things differently, in ways that other people don’t or in ways most aren’t exposed to, but I don’t think her word is gospel or anything,” she said.

The group acts as a catalyst to think more critically about what’s going on in the world, she said.

The group was recommended to receive none of its requested $32,700 from the Student Services Fees Committee this year.

In a previous article, Vincent Brinker, an officer of the group, told the Minnesota Daily there’s been a change to “promote more liberal groups on campus” in recent years.

“Groups that are conservative by nature or are not favorable by liberal ideals or socialist ideals are usually kind of hit hard,” he said. “I think the Ayn Rand group was one of those.”

In its final fees recommendations, the SSFC said the group had enough carryover from last year to cover its expenses.

Last year, the SSFC also recommended less than the group’s almost $90,000 request, citing low membership and student impact.

Cowles said the 10-member group is still growing and has a 200-person mailing list.

On Thursday, the group hosted a lecture by Eric Daniels, who spoke on the state of free speech in America — something Brinker said the group focuses on.

He said free speech and free will are concepts that often revolve around the philosophy of objectivism.

In addition to guest speakers, the group shows movies at Coffman Union’s theater and is planning a trip to a Chicago conference on objectivism this summer.

The group is less about implementing its ideas throughout campus and more about educating students on Rand’s philosophy, Cowles said.

“We think that if you learn about Ayn’s philosophy,” Cowles said, “you’ll find it to be moral, and then you’ll implement it in your own life.”