TAMPA, Nov. 30, 2010—The University of South Florida (USF) has reversed its denial of recognition to the conservative Young Americans for Freedom (YAF) student group. USF had argued that YAF was too "similar" to the libertarian Young Americans for Liberty on campus. After USF denied YAF’s application for recognition, YAF came to the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) for help.
"Let me get this straight: USF recognizes over 60 multicultural groups, no fewer than 20 engineering clubs, and even a group solely devoted to appreciation for Nerf products, but a conservative group was considered too similar to a libertarian organization to be allowed on campus?" FIRE President Greg Lukianoff said. "We are very pleased that USF has rectified this double standard and recognized Young Americans for Freedom."
The travails of University of South Florida Young Americans for Freedom began in April 2010 when YAF submitted its Chapter Constitution to gain official recognition. USF rejected the application months later in a September 23 e-mail from Student Programs Coordinator Edna Jones Miller to YAF Founding Chairman Anthony Davis. Miller wrote that "the purpose of your proposed organization may be fairly similar, if not the same, as another existing organization that is established at the USF Tampa campus" and that "no other student organization can exist with the same or similar mission/purpose."
This is not the first time this argument has been made against a conservative student organization in Florida. In 2003, the University of Miami refused to recognize Advocates for Conservative Thought (ACT), a student organization created for "the exposition and promotion of conservative principles and ideas" because, the university argued, it already had recognized the College Republicans. After ACT’s four failed attempts, FIRE intervened and ACT finally received official recognition.
FIRE wrote USF President Judy Genshaft on October 15, 2010, clarifying that YAF and Young Americans for Liberty are significantly different in ideology and mission. FIRE also noted that USF’s policy unconstitutionally gives administrators too much discretion to reject new student organizations, failing the Supreme Court’s requirement that government representatives use "narrow, objective, and definite standards" when subjecting First Amendment rights to a permit system (Shuttlesworth v. Birmingham, 394 U.S. 147, 150-51 (1969)).
On October 28, USF Dean for Students Kevin Banks replied to FIRE’s letter, provisionally recognizing YAF pending approval of the group’s constitution. Meanwhile, USF has yet to revise its unconstitutional policy of preventing groups "with the same purpose/goals" from obtaining official recognition.
"Other than the College Republicans, YAF is the largest and oldest conservative student organization in the United States," FIRE Vice President of Programs Adam Kissel said. "Yet, USF proclaimed ignorance and confusion about how YAF differs from Young Americans for Liberty, which was founded just two years ago following Ron Paul’s presidential campaign."
FIRE is a nonprofit educational foundation that unites civil rights and civil liberties leaders, scholars, journalists, and public intellectuals from across the political and ideological spectrum on behalf of individual rights, due process, freedom of expression, academic freedom, and rights of conscience at our nation’s colleges and universities. FIRE’s efforts to preserve liberty on campuses across America can be viewed at thefire.org.