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A conservative think tank's club is being revived on campus

The American Enterprise Institute executive council at ASU is active again and planning events for students with policy research experts


A club associated with the American Enterprise Institute, a conservative think tank, is back on campus. Illustration originally published Monday, Nov. 8, 2021.

A club at ASU dedicated to the American Enterprise Institute, a conservative think tank, is rebooting after a three-year hiatus.

The American Enterprise Institute executive council currently consists of four student board members whose goal is to connect other students with AEI and its policy experts. The group's first event of the semester will be a discussion on the electoral college with AEI Senior Fellow John Fortier.

Other universities like Elon University and the University of Florida also have AEI executive councils and offer events on topics like Middle Eastern policy and the Israel-Palestine conflict.

Joe Pitts, a senior studying management and civic and economic thought and leadership and the club's president, restarted the executive council this year to re-engage students with the think tank and the topics it researches. Pitts previously served as the president of ASU College Republicans. 

"What the student councils do is, they're given the opportunity to host some of these speakers whenever they're able to on their campuses and expose students to those speakers and to folks who work in AEI," Pitts said.

AEI fellows and scholars research and write papers, articles and op-eds on a variety of policy areas, including economics, defense and education. The think tank has long been considered a right-wing counterpart to the left-leaning Brookings Institution and a leader in neo-conservatism.

The club was originally started at ASU by Shay Khatiri, who graduated in 2018. Khatiri also founded the Alexander Hamilton Society at ASU and worked as a student recruitment and outreach coordinator for the School of Civic and Economic Thought and Leadership.

All four members of the board are studying at SCETL and the school is also hosting a similar event featuring Fortier the night before. SCETL has faced criticism in the past for being a conservative alternative to traditional political science programs. The school is an answer to academia culture wars and according to reporting from the New York Times, was originally sponsored by the state legislature to counteract liberalism.

The school also has its own think tanks, the Center for Political Thought and Leadership and the Center for the Study of Economic Liberty, both of which have faced criticism for receiving donations from the Charles Koch foundation. 

At the time, Khatiri said he didn't register the club with the University on the advice of leaders at AEI's Academic Programs team.

"They discouraged establishing it as an official campus registered club, because they wanted it to be a support group for existing campus clubs," Khatiri said. "They wanted just for an AEI group to be there to provide resources from money to speakers to anything."

During Khatiri's tenure as president, the club hosted debates and panels featuring speakers like Robert Doar, the current president of AEI, and won an award for best chapter. Khatiri said he was unsure why the group fizzled out, but was happy to see it restarted.

Clay Robinson, a junior studying politics and the economy, civic and economic thought and leadership and innovation in society, said he joined the AEI executive council after hearing from a friend it was starting back up. Robinson serves as the vice president of ASU College Republicans. 

"I think it's extremely important for AEI to be active on campus because we provide connections for students to engage with leaders on issues they're interested in," Robinson said. "These connections will build a network for students that they will be able to utilize for their future careers, especially when meeting other students interested in the same area."

AEI doesn't offer student scholarships, it just helps to facilitate the executive councils and offers a summer honors program.

Robinson went through AEI's unorthodox recruiting process for campus councils, which involves a club member or adviser nominating a student to apply through the think tank to be interviewed and chosen by the Academic Programs team. Club members and advisers can give recommendations, but they cannot choose their own members.

"Once there's an opening, we as members or an adviser will let people know that applications are open, they'll head over to AEI's actual website, then from our own recommendations internally, their students department out in D.C. will then interview applicants," Pitts said.

Khatiri said the executive council is a good way for AEI to recruit students and help them find jobs within the field of policy research. He stays connected to AEI and members of other executive councils through the AEI alumni network.

"It becomes such a, I don't want to say cult, but it becomes such a group and many years after they've left AEI, students really want to work there," Khatiri said.

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Reagan PriestManaging Editor

Reagan Priest is a managing editor, overseeing and working with the six digital desks at The State Press. She previously worked as a social justice reporter for Cronkite News and as a digital production intern at The Arizona Republic.

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