Student Senator Dallas Brown has a guest commentary in today’s Emerald decrying the walk out his fellow senators staged. In it, Brown claims that fellow Senator Wally Hicks created a resolution which “makes significant arguments regarding a question that ultimately encompasses the entire purpose of student government.” That question being, of course, whether or not student government can punish a student publication for its content. A .pdf copy of that resolution, which was to be introduced at the 5/24 meeting but was tabled since it was submitted late, can be found here. Here’s an excerpt:
At no point has the Court indicated that to remain “viewpoint neutral” the ASUO is compelled to fund any and all funding requests that come before it. Therefore the Court has permitted the ASUO to exercise some kind of standard to reject requests for funding or to reconsider its prior awards. The Rosenburger Court provides guidance that the requesting program must contribute to the mission and goals of the university. The inference therefore is that the body which governs the incidental fee (the ASUO) has the discretion to decide whether the level of a group’s contribution is sufficient to warrant the award of incidental dollars.
Southworth also states, “it is not for the Court to say what is or is not germane to the ideas being pursued in an institution of higher learning.” Southworth, at 232. The Court has therefore left the question of what is germane to the university’s mission and goals to be decided by the school itself. By extension the ASUO therefore retains that discretion through its mandate to govern the incidental fee.
To summarize our position, the Supreme Court’s requirement of “viewpoint neutrality” permits the ASUO to de-fund the Insurgent if it judges that the group does not contribute to the mission and goals of the university.
This is a rather limited interpretation of Southworth, and it’s surprising that someone as bright as Hicks wouldn’t see that this would essentially eliminate the meaning of the term “viewpoint neutrality” thanks to two loopholes:
- The mission and goals of a University (or student government) can be interpreted in an extremely liberal fashion. If a student senate was filled with religious conservatives, for instance, what would stop them from decreeing that a publication geared towards homosexuals did not help the “physical and cultural development” of that university’s students? And anyway, this University’s own mission statement says that one of its guiding principles is “the conviction that freedom of thought and expression is the bedrock principle on which university activity is based.” That is hardly a ringing endorsement of censorship.
- It also seems that Hicks attempts to separate the University administration from the ASUO, thereby empowering student government in an area which Southworth explicitly says the University administration must remain neutral. The ASUO and University administration cannot, however, be separated since the ASUO must have approval from UO President David Frohnmayer on final budgets and consult him if there are any major administrative or personnel modifications to student groups. As the Clark Document states:
Responsibility for the administrative structure, personnel administration, and reporting relationships of major programs funded by student incidental fees resided within the University Administration. Any recommendations for realignment of major programs or other considerations of what constitutes optimal reporting relationships should be the outcome of proper consultation and wide support between student government and the University President. Such modification requires approval of the President.
Consequently, any action the ASUO takes in regards to funding is, in effect, an action taken by the University administration. If the ASUO but not the University President were allowed to defund groups based on legal content, then the UO President would, in effect, be able to defund groups based on content since he or she could withhold approval of final budgets until the offending groups were disciplined. The two entities are simply too entwined to have their rights legally distinguished from each other in this case.
Despite this, Brown does make a very valid point near the end of his commentary:
The ultimate irony is that all but one of the dissenting senators approved of the agenda (my discussion item included), defending the right for us to present. Somewhere among the many recesses throughout the night, these senators were influenced to walk out of the meeting without even giving an excuse for their departure.
Indeed, the motion to add the debate (and not the resolution) to the agenda passed overwhelmingly, with Sara Hamilton (who later walked out) seconding it. And then a number of these same Senators decided to walk out rather than participate in the discussion they had voted for. What’s the deal?