FIRE’s Heat Douses Student Censorship in Oregon

By on March 10, 2005

In a sudden turn of events, the University of Oregon student government has increased funding to a conservative student magazine
that had been the target of alleged viewpoint discrimination.

The Oregon Commentator
came under fire after satirizing transgendered student senator Toby
Hill-Meyer, who had requested that the campus newspaper refer to him
using the general-neutral pronouns “ze” for “he,” and “hir” for “him.”
Consequently, the Associated Students of the University of Oregon
(ASUO) recognized and denied funding to the magazine for poking fun at
Hill-Meyer. That is when the Commentator contacted the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE).

FIRE’s director of legal and public advocacy, Greg Lukianoff, was taken back by the student leaders’ reaction.

“The Commentator,
somewhat unsurprisingly, made fun of [Hill-Meyer],” says Lukianoff.
“[But] for that to lead to a situation where the student government
refuses to recognize their mission, refuses to fund them for several
months, and continues to debate whether or not they have to recognize a
group at all, is simply remarkable.”

Not long after FIRE sent
protest letters to the university administration and campus leaders,
the student government re-recognized the Commentator — and
even increased the magazine’s budget by more than five percent.
Lukianoff says although that is all welcome news, UO administrators
never criticized the student government’s initial censorship.

“If
you’re distributing student fees, you’re not allowed to distribute them
on the basis of viewpoint, period. That’s [directly] from the Supreme
Court,” the FIRE spokesman says. “And to let the student government
languish, actually requesting help from the administration, and not
clarify what their constitutional duties are, in our opinion, is
unforgivable.”

Pauline Austin, a spokeswoman for the university,
had no comment on the story when contacted. But FIRE says it is hopeful
both the school and its student leaders have learned a lesson, and that
student fees will no longer be used as a “tool to favor or disfavor
particular viewpoints.”

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Schools: University of Oregon