By Becket Adams
In a recent Think Magazine article titled “Club Funding Drops $175,000 Thanks Largely to YAF’s Lawsuit Threat,” the author Trevor Christian presents an unfair and incorrect narrative.
Here are the facts: YAF was forced to consider legal action against Stony Brook University because they were denying them recognition as a legitimate group and not offering them the same funding that other student groups enjoy. The university was violating the First Amendment.
Consider the Supreme Court in the Southworth case. Universities are an exception to the general rule that government cannot force one person to pay for another’s expression especially if one disagrees with it. For example, in regards to union dues, the government cannot require public employees to pay the full union dues (including the amounts that go for political advocacy).
However, universities are treated slightly different. YAF students can be required to pay into a student fee system that pays for a liberal group’s activities. The catch is that Stony Brook must have rules that ensure that money is distributed in a “viewpoint neutral manner” so that supporters of a leftist magazine would also be paying for YAF’s programs as well.
But Stony Brook decided to stonewall YAF with a policy that permits student government to exclude new student groups from funding on the basis that their views are “too similar.” This is clearly not “viewpoint neutral.” It is also rather un-progressive.
On a side note, it is also inconsistent with the universities past practices. If the YAF chapter is denied funding because it is “too similar” to the College Republicans (as was the stated reason), then Stony Brook must explain how there are two separate student groups with extraordinarily similar mission statements.
Stony Brook’s student group The Queer Alliance:
“is a social and political group for queer students, particularly, but not exclusively graduate students and faculty.”
Next, there is the LGBTA (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transsexual, Alliance):
“The Stony Brook LGBTA (Lesbian Gay Bisexual Transgender Alliance) is a campus group dedicated to promoting awareness of queer issues. By creating a more accepting and comfortable environment for queer students and their allies, the LGBTA hopes to foster diversity in the Stony Brook community.”
Wouldn’t these two groups fall directly under the “too similar” rule?
The conclusion that one naturally draws is that Think Magazine is actually more interested in protecting its own turf instead of actual “progress.” Allowing the student government to examine the views of student groups and defund them on the basis that their views are subjectively “too similar” to another’s invites viewpoint discrimination.
Moreover, student government required new groups to get signed petitions from roughly 800 students supporting their funding – and requiring them to provide personal information. Such a popularity contest is patently unconstitutional and even less problematic policies have been struck down elsewhere.
Stony Brook’s policies (and its actions in regards to YAF) clearly violated the First Amendment. Yet, despite this, Stony Brook YAF did not immediately file a lawsuit. Instead, it took the chance to correspond with the university and student government. To their great credit, the university and student government recognized the constitutional problems in their policies and moved to correct them without any need for litigation. As a result, all students’ rights are protected at Stony Brook.
Everyone should be pleased with this outcome. Funding is distributed more equitably, the Constitutional rights of all students are respected, and litigation was not even necessary. It is a win-win situation.
YAF was not alone in this assessment. The university, the student government, and their attorneys also arrived at the same conclusion – hence the change in policy. However, despite the clear consensus, Think Magazine describes the lawsuit “threat” as “ridiculous.” Think Magazine just wants to have the leftist campus organizations to have their cake and eat YAF’s too.
Think Magazine does not do the former (Think) and is not really in favor of the latter (Progress).
Becket Adams is an intern at the National Journalism Center which is a project of Young Americas Foundation.