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No April Fool's joke -- Coulter coming to Pitt

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Fresh from her knee-slapping reference to presidential candidate John Edwards as a "faggot," Ann Coulter is coming to Pittsburgh on April 1. The conservative brick-thrower was invited by the University of Pittsburgh chapter of the College Republicans: She is scheduled to speak at 7 p.m. in Pitt's David Lawrence Hall.

"This isn't an April Fool's Joke!" proclaims an announcement for the event on Facebook, a social-networking site popular among college students. Indeed, publicity for the event has been scanty, but Pitt administrators and the Young America's Foundation -- a Virginia-based organization that books Coulter's campus appearances -- confirm Coulter is slated to appear.

"The contract has not yet been signed, but that's just a matter of dialogue between the agency and the students," says Terry Milani, a student-life administrator at Pitt. "There's no dialogue as to 'should we or shouldn't we'" host the controversial speaker.

Several members of the College Republicans were contacted with requests for comment; none replied by press time.

Coulter has been a contentious figure, and in recent weeks, criticism of her has become more bipartisan. Republicans and Democrats alike have criticized her March 3 reference to Edwards as a "faggot." But such utterances are nothing new for her: She has previously referred to former Vice President Al Gore as "a total fag." In her book Godless, she insinuated that some 9/11 widows were exploiting the event.

"I've never seen people enjoying their husbands' deaths so much," she wrote.

Still, Milani says, "I don't expect [her appearance] to be contentious. I would expect that, for whatever reason, people would be interested in what she had to say."

But news of Coulter's appearance has disturbed some. "At first, I was hoping it was an April Fool's joke," says James Sheppard, who heads the College Democrats. So far this semester, he says, he and College Republicans "have been working together more than in the past" on charitable events. But "knowing that they would think of her as a mouthpiece for their organization upsets me a little."

Sheppard says College Dems and other groups are "planning an outside visible protest" of Coulter's appearance, "because we can't just let the event go by."

According to Milani, the College Republicans sought funding for Coulter's appearance from Pitt's Student Governing Board last fall. Elected by the student body, the board allocates money raised from the Student Activities Fee, a charge that costs full-time undergraduates $80 each semester.

According to the Young America's Foundation Web site, Coulter commands a speaker fee that starts at $20,000 an appearance. (The site also identifies one of her "speech topics" as "Liberals are Wrong About Everything.") But Milani declined to disclose how much money Coulter was charging for her appearance here. "The contract isn't set, and I don't know if I could tell you anyway," he said. The size of allocations made to student groups are "not something that we publicize."

While the Facebook page says the event is free to students, tickets are required to attend. Milani said tickets would be available through the ticket office in the William Pitt student union.

So far, news of Coulter's appearance has barely registered on campus, let alone off it. As this issue went to press, nothing about Coulter's appearance had yet appeared in the Pitt News, the campus newspaper. Nor have fliers been distributed on campus yet.

Even so, Sheppard says, "Everyone I talk to, either conservative or liberal, seems to know she's coming. And they're either going to listen to her or planning to protest."

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