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Viewpoint Neutrality

It seems that the lifeblood of the ASUO is the language and hot-topic phrases debated each year by the student government. Last year it was “institutional racism” and this year it is “viewpoint neutrality.” Here is a good, concise explanation of viewpoint neutrality from the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE). As noted below by Neil Brown, two major court cases defined the role of viewpoint neutrality in the allocation of student fees at state colleges and universities.

Together, the rulings show clearly that (1) any student organization at a state school that is denied funding because of its views can sue claiming viewpoint discrimination; and (2) students may opt out of funding an objectionable group only if that state university does not distribute its money in a viewpoint neutral manner.

Thus, the ASUO cannot deny funding, or give less money than needed, to a student group for reasons regarding the speech and messages that group provides to the cultural environment of the university. Furthermore, from FIRE:

Viewpoint discrimination occurs when the government uses its power to advance one person’s opinion over another’s in such matters as religion, politics, and belief.

Let’s look at an example from the last few weeks where viewpoint neutrality was said to be violated – at least questioned – by the PFC. Last month, after much debate, the PFC decided to give OSPIRG a small increase in its budget. During the hearings, some committee members talked about concerns that the group spends too much student money off campus. From the ODE story:

But one volunteer shot back at Wilsey, “I think you’re right that it is very difficult to quantify something like OSPIRG. OSPIRG gives me hope that I can change the world. We are educating young people who will enter the workforce to believe that they can change the world.”

“I agree with you,” Wilsey replied, “but this body has to quantify it.”

Sen. Nick Meyers turned out to be the only one to vote against the increase, however, as the others were too afraid of being viewpoint discriminant. From the ODE:

Meyers questioned why, after so many years, so many people dislike OSPIRG and mentioned negative articles in the Oregon Commentator.

ASUO President McLain, who had attended the entire hearing, interrupted. “I think we are verging very closely on a breach of viewpoint neutrality,” she said, accusing Meyers of questioning “how they are perceived politically.”

To look at “viewpoint neutrality” fairly, take the above example and flip flop it: what if funding OSPIRG as a contracted service is not viewpoint neutral. The definition of contracted services, as defined in the PFC Budget Packet, is:

Non-University of Oregon entities that contract with the ASUO for specific services such as Lane Transit District, Legal Services, and the Oregon Daily Emerald. These programs receive their incidental fee funding in 3 or more lump-sum payments, in accordance with the conditions of a signed contract.

If you read the arguments by OSPIRG members, OSPIRG appears to be a collection of services – most of which are backed with a liberal viewpoint – unless you consider the service of “changing the world” adequate to the definition. The OC presents the University students with a much more clearly defined service. We print, they read. Simple as that.

When Meyers brought up articles written by the Oregon Commentator, he is referring to our opinion that OSPIRG has historically been given special treatment because of its viewpoint. This has nothing to do with us trying to advance our opinion over theirs. We are arguing for a fair playing field. If a student body cannot discriminate against a group, it should not be allowed to do the opposite, by privileging a student group because of its viewpoints. This has been happening for decades in the ASUO and the current student leaders are allowing this to continue, even though most of them are unaware or are not meaning to do so.

A simple proposal is to make OSPIRG into a student group. If the proposed changes to the fee process are passed, OSPIRG’s budget should still be overlooked by the PFC, not the Athletics and Contracts Finance Committee, and be visible to the students who pay for it. If it doesn’t, we believe the ASUO is distributing student money in a viewpoint discriminant matter.

  1. Jacque says:

    I love you guys…

  2. Niedermeyer says:

    Yeah, Grim said it all


    And hail Satan, etc.


    Hear, hear.

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