Berkeley Student Gov’t President Voids Referendum for Paper’s Funding

By April 13, 2012

The Daily Californian, a student newspaper at the University of California at Berkeley, is reporting that a measure for direct student organization funding on the student ballot has been voided by the president of the Associated Students of the University of California (ASUC), Vishalli Loomba.  

The "V.O.I.C.E. Initiative" would have subsidized the printing and production of The Daily Californian to the tune of $2 per student per semester, coming out to roughly $93,800 annually. The Daily Californian writes: 

Loomba’s order comes just as the second of three voting days for the election begins. In the order, she cites a UC policy which states that the student referendum process shall not be used to establish a new fee for the purpose of supporting a non-university organization.

This policy applies to the Daily Cal, Loomba said in the order, because it is an independent organization that does not receive funding from the university. Rather, the Daily Cal pays rent for its office space in Eshleman Hall and has an agreement to distribute its papers on campus.

In addition to conflicting with UC policy, this type of student group funding mechanism is likely unconstitutional. As we discussed with respect to a ballot measure at the University of Oregon last week, such funding referenda violate the fundamental principle of viewpoint neutrality in student fee funding decisions, dictated by the Supreme Court’s decision in Board of Regents of the University of Wisconsin System v. Southworth (2000). In relevant part, Southworth says: 

It remains to discuss the referendum aspect of the University’s program. While the record is not well developed on the point, it appears that by majority vote of the student body a given RSO may be funded or defunded. It is unclear to us what protection, if any, there is for viewpoint neutrality in this part of the process. To the extent the referendum substitutes majority determinations for viewpoint neutrality it would undermine the constitutional protection the program requires. The whole theory of viewpoint neutrality is that minority views are treated with the same respect as are majority views. Access to a public forum, for instance, does not depend upon majoritarian consent. That principle is controlling here. 

Board of Regents v. Southworth, 529 U.S. 217, 235 (2000). 

For more information on funding decisions, check out FIRE’s Guide to Student Fees, Funding, and Legal Equality on Campus, available both in PDF and HTML formats.

Schools: University of California, Berkeley