Temple University’s student government has backed down from a viewpoint-discriminatory funding policy for student events. Temple Student Government (TSG) had told all student organizations that speakers who are "offensive"—or not "inclusive" and "friendly"—would not be funded. A student government leader also stated that the new rule would "not be found in any documents, but will be enforced by the [allocations] committee." Less than 24 hours after the student group Temple University Purpose (TUP) challenged the policy with FIRE’s help, the policy was rescinded.
On Saturday, September 11, 2010, at a meeting for student organization leaders, TUP President Alvaro Watson was told by TSG Allocations Committee Chair Mark Quien about a new policy governing funding for student groups out of the General Activity Fee (GAF), which is paid by all Temple students. As Watson recalled hearing, Quien informed the group leaders that under this new policy, funds would not be allocated for student group events featuring speakers whom Student Activities Program Coordinator Maureen Fisher found controversial.
Given that Temple has violated the rights of TUP for hosting outside speakers twice in the past year and has shown no concern about fighting against the First Amendment and one of its own students in federal court only to suffer a shameful speech code defeat, it is easy to see why Watson and TUP were concerned about the new policy. On Sunday, September 12, with support from FIRE, Watson e-mailed Quien and copied Fisher and other administrators, asking Quien to verify the existence of this strange policy. Watson also asked Quien if a written copy of this new policy existed and if he would be able to see it. Quien responded to Watson’s e-mail later that evening, stating:
I do recall speaking with you yesterday, and you are correct in your understanding of the policy. However, it is not the program coordinator (Maureen) who enforces this "rule" but rather the student body being represented by the committee. I understand your concern for the "constitutionality" of this policy but quite frankly when speaking about such philosophical issues the matter becomes moot. Student Organizations have been provided with the privilege of GAF funding, which was provided even further by the student body. If an honorarium insults or offends a large portion of that student body, that speaker will not be funded by Allocations, because the money used was provided by everyone not a special interest group. If a special interest group wishes to bring a speaker to campus, that group has the right to do so. We are not restricting a groups [sic] right to freedom of speech but rather enforcing a de facto principle that all events on campus should be inclusive, friendly, and appropriate for all students on campus. The rule will not be found in any documents, but will be enforced by the committee. If you wish to apply for allocations for any event, you have the right to do so.
Enforcing a rule that "will not be found in any documents"? Really?
Adding further uncertainty to the status of any such unwritten policy at Temple, Fisher herself responded to Watson, writing, "I believe you misunderstood. There is no such policy for TSG Allocations nor would I or any other staff person deem a speaker ‘controversial’ or not."
A few hours later, Quien backed down. He e-mailed his list of "Student Organization Representatives," stating,
Contrary to what was stated on Saturday, allocations’ proposals are not reviewed based upon the content of the program. Please refer to the criteria listed above before submitting your applications.
Quien’s blithe initial dismissal of Watson’s concerns about the constitutionality of Temple’s unwritten policy is flatly unacceptable. Had it been enforced, TSG’s unwritten policy would have violated the constitutional rights of student groups in multiple ways. Temple is a public university that is legally and morally bound by the First Amendment and the decisions of the Supreme Court concerning freedom of speech at public colleges and universities. Furthermore, Temple has a non-delegable duty to ensure that the First Amendment rights of its students are protected and is legally liable if these rights are not respected by TSG as an authorized agent of the university. Thus, Temple must ensure that any delegation of its duties to the student government comes with full protection of the First Amendment rights that Temple is bound to uphold. It seems that TSG needs some remedial training in the principles of the First Amendment.
Temple University escaped another humiliating defeat last week, but students now need to be on the lookout for violations of their rights by TSG—an organization that ought to be protecting the rights of fellow students, not violating them. FIRE is on the lookout, too.
TSG should remember that people come to college for an education. If you make it through college without ever having been offended, without ever having your deepest views and the deepest sources of your identity challenged and evaluated, you should ask for your money back. TSG should be promoting the widest diversity of conflicting views—even controversial ones, and even those that might seem offensive—not standing between students and their education.