In 2015, the University of California-San Diego attempted to silence a satirical student newspaper, The Koala, by defunding all UCSD student media organizations. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit recently held that such a pretextual attempt to censor The Koala is unconstitutional.
FIRE told UCSD as much back in 2015 and filed an amicus brief in support of The Koala as well. Importantly, what happened to The Koala is not an isolated case: Universities across the country frequently target student organization funding as a way of censoring speech they dislike.
Inspired by the UCSD case and the recent defunding of Rutgers’ student newspaper The Daily Targum, Kelsey Sheronas and Isabela Palmieri, legal interns at FIRE, have written a model policy that provides a constitutional and viewpoint-neutral process for the allocation of student fees. Relying primarily on case law, FIRE’s Model Policy: Allocating Student Fees suggests detailed procedures for the recognition and funding of student organizations, as well as an appeals process and protections to ensure viewpoint neutrality. While the needs of individual universities may vary, this model policy provides them with a flexible framework that can be adapted to accommodate those needs.
In order to deter student governments from subjectively evaluating the views of a prospective group and making decisions on that basis, FIRE’s proposed system encourages universities to recognize student organizations formed for “any lawful purpose” and to adopt a standard to presumptively fund organizations that have been funded in the past. This approach protects organizations from being financially penalized based on actions, events, or statements that are deemed to be offensive or unpopular (as was the case with The Daily Targum) and ensures universities are complying with current constitutional requirements for funding systems.
We hope FIRE’s Model Policy: Allocating Student Fees will be helpful to universities and students alike — ensuring that student fees are allocated in a fair, constitutional manner. University administrators are welcome to contact FIRE for further assistance when incorporating this policy on their campus.
Kelsey Sheronas is a FIRE legal intern and a rising 2L at the Temple University Beasley School of Law.
Isabela Palmieri is a FIRE legal intern and a rising 2L at the University of North Carolina School of Law.