Santa Clara student government — again! — denies recognition to student group over its conservative viewpoints

June 7, 2019

Last week, the Santa Clara University Associated Student Government denied recognition to a campus chapter of Young Americans for Freedom over the student group’s political stances. The rejection is the second time in a month that the ASG refused recognition to YAF over hostility to the group’s conservative viewpoints.

On April 25, the student government held a contentious debate on whether to grant official student group status to the YAF chapter, which would have given the club the right to request funding and schedule speakers, among other privileges and benefits. The discussion swiftly veered from YAF’s successful completion of the procedural requirements for recognition to its political advocacy and stances. One student senator questioned whether “students would feel unsafe” because of the group’s ideology, and others commented on the perceived harmfulness of YAF’s advocacy for free speech. Many student government members were sharply divided over the need for another conservative or political club on campus, and criticized YAF’s alleged ties to Turning Point USA and the Republican Party.

Despite YAF fulfilling all the criteria for recognition, the student government voted down its application for registered student organization status. FIRE’s May 17 letter to SCU explained how the university administration cannot allow the ASG’s viewpoint-based decision to stand since the student government is an extension of the university, and the decision violates the university’s explicit promises to uphold student free speech. We called upon SCU to stand by the promise it makes to its students by ensuring that student groups are not denied recognition on viewpoint-discriminatory grounds.

This very point was made clear to the ASG on March by SCU’s interim general counsel, who explained to the student government on March 7 that it could not penalize student groups for their expression. This is not FIRE’s first time writing to SCU over a viewpoint-based determination by its student government. In 2017, the student government similarly rejected TPUSA on similar grounds, prompting FIRE to write a letter to the university citing SCU’s promise to “remain irrevocably committed to intellectual discourse” and to “defend the right of every member of the campus community to freedom of expression.” The decision was overturned by the administration after FIRE intervened.

Unfortunately, the ASG did not heed our call, or the advice of SCU counsel, as YAF was again denied recognition on May 23 after the first vote was overturned by the student judicial court on procedural grounds.

When a student government recognizes (or refuses to recognize) student organizations, it exercises authority delegated to it by the college or university. That authority is necessarily circumscribed by the legal commitments made by the institution, and the institution must ensure that its agents do not exceed their authority. That is the case here, and SCU’s leadership must take steps — as it has before, and as its institutional policies expressly permit — to uphold the university’s laudable commitment to freedom of expression.

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Schools:  Santa Clara University

Cases:  Santa Clara University: Student Government Association’s Denial of Recognition to Young Americans for Freedom Chapter