University of Rhode Island College Republicans keep student group status

April 30, 2007

A Republican student group at the University of Rhode Island doesn’t have to apologize for offering a $100 scholarship to a white, heterosexual, American males after student leaders objecting to the scholarship backed down.

The College Republicans sponsoring the advertisement for the scholarship refused to apologize for it, defending the ad as satire and parody—both forms of free speech.

The Student Senate not only wanted an apology from the GOP group, but also planned to sever ties with its members until the effort failed.

But student leaders drafted a compromise bill, which passed Wednesday night by voice vote, requiring the College Republicans to issue a clarification to the 40 applicants of the scholarship. The measure proposing to sever ties with the College Republicans was withdrawn and the group offered to publish an explanation of the advertisement.

“The University of Rhode Island College Republicans feel that this is a victory for freedom of expression and freedom of speech,” Ryan Bilodeau, chairman of the College Republicans, told FOXNews.com. “Ultimately, the facts weren’t on their side.”

Bilodeau, a junior majoring in political science and philosophy, said he will send applicants a short, simple clarification standing by their position that the scholarship was intended to be satirical with no plans to award the money.

Neil Leston, president of the Student Senate and a finance junior, said he was pleased with the compromise.

“If it’s satire, then it’s free speech,” Leston told FOXNews.com. “This isn’t to be taken seriously. But if it’s saying we’re offering a scholarship on a non-merit based factor, then that’s something we can’t support.”

“I don’t want to lose a group, I don’t want to lose that voice on campus,” Leston added. “They do bring perspective and unique debates to campus.”

A Student Senate committee recently recommended revoking the College Republicans’ recognition as a school-sanctioned group because the group refused to apologize for the advertisement.

The ad ran last November in the student newspaper, The Good 5 Cent Cigar. Forty students applied for the scholarship, but it was not awarded to anyone. Since the ad was meant to be satirical, no applicants complained, Bilodeau said.

Greg Lukianoff, president of the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, which supported the College Republicans, called the vote a victory for free speech.

“Preserving the College Republicans’ recognition and revoking the demand for an apology is the only acceptable decision that the Student Senate could have made,” Lukianoff said in a statement. “Everyone following this case seemed to understand that no public governing body may lawfully compel speech. We are relieved that the Student Senate finally came to that same realization.”

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