A decision by a student Republican group at the University of Rhode Island to sponsor a satirical scholarship for white, heterosexual men has started a row on campus.
The group’s move poked fun at the fact that many scholarships at American universities are targeted at groups that are perceived to be at a disadvantage, including racial minorities and women.
But student leaders reacted angrily: threatening to cut off money and other perks from the College Republicans for allegedly violating an anti-discrimination clause in the student Senate’s rules, according to university officials. A committee of the student Senate also has asked to review the College Republicans’ activities.
An apology from the group would end most of the disciplinary actions, but the College Republicans are fighting it.
University President Robert Carothers wrote a letter this month warning the student Senate’s president against forcing the Republicans to unwillingly make public statements, said Tom Dougan, the university’s vice president for student affairs.
“We don’t believe anyone’s First Amendment rights should be violated,” Dougan said. “In our opinion, that’s exactly what’s happening.”
The First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution guarantees free speech.
The young Republicans argue their “scholarship” advertised last year was not misleading or discriminatory because they never seriously considered distributing any cash—something understood by all the applicants.
“Not one person who applied has approached us saying, ‘Listen, where’s my $100,’” said Ryan Bilodeau, 21, the chairman of the Republican group. He said the student government’s demands infringe on his free speech rights.
“We don’t think because we’re obeying the First Amendment that we should be excluded,” he said.
The entire student Senate is scheduled to vote next Wednesday on a proposal to decertify the College Republicans as a student group, which would cut them off from money and other school resources.
To fight that effort, the college Republicans have enlisted help from the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, a Philadelphia-based civil rights group for students.
“As bad as it may be to tell students what they cannot say, it is still worse to tell them what they must say,” FIRE President Greg Lukianoff said in a written statement.
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University of Rhode Island