FIRE’s Guide to Student Fees, Funding, and Legal Equality on Campus

Disparate funding of student organizations at colleges and universities has for years thwarted free speech and rights of association. By denying funding to organizations whose viewpoints are controversial or out of current fashion, administrators create a campus that lacks meaningful, substantive debate and that unfairly restricts speech. A 9–0 Supreme Court decision in Wisconsin v. Southworth (1999), in conjunction with the decision in Rosenberger v. University of Virginia (1996), ensures that student organizations must be funded without regard to the message they propound (in other words, that funding decisions should adhere to the principle of content neutrality). FIRE’s Guide to Student Fees, Funding, and Legal Equality on Campus provides a thorough explanation of the significance of student activity fees and their relationship with free expression and campus equality. This Guide provides students with the information they need to stand up for the fair distribution of student funds and educates administrators about the intricacies of this largely unexplored area of First Amendment law. The Guide aims to answer the following questions:

  1. How do we wage an effective and successful campaign against disparate funding at our institution?
  2. How do we respond to an administrative claim that it is under no obligation to fund a worthwhile cause?
  3. What is the best method of requesting funding for our student organization?
  4. When is too little funding an effective denial of funds and repressive of speech?


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