FIRE’s press release today announces that a committee of the University of Rhode Island (URI) Student Senate voted on Monday to derecognize the College Republicans.
As we said last week, the Student Organizations Advisory and Review Committee (SOARC) has for months attempted to force the College Republicans to publicly apologize for advertising a satirical “scholarship” for white, heterosexual, American males. College Republicans President Ryan Bilodeau appeared on the Rhode Island news in November defending his group’s satirical protest. About 40 students submitted applications for the “scholarship,” which was never actually awarded to anyone.
Because the College Republicans simply advertised the “scholarship,” SOARC currently demands that they both publish an explanation of their actions in the student newspaper and issue apologies to all the students who applied for the “scholarship.” The College Republicans have agreed to explain themselves to the URI community, but adamantly refuse to apologize. This demand for an apology is disingenuous since none of the students who submitted applications—many of them supporters of the College Republicans who wrote satirical essays on the hardships they’d faced as white, heterosexual, American males—have requested an apology.
The demand that the College Republicans apologize is even more unbelievable in light of the clear constitutional prohibitions on compelled speech. As FIRE has stated in its letter to the Student Senate and to URI President Robert Carothers, no governing body at an American institution of higher education may lawfully force students to make statements in which they do not believe. More than sixty years ago, in West Virginia State Board of Education v. Barnette, 319 U.S. 624 (1943), Justice Robert Jackson memorably wrote that “if there is any fixed star in our constitutional constellation, it is that no official, high or petty, can prescribe what shall be orthodox in politics, nationalism, religion, or other matters of opinion or force citizens to confess by word or act their faith therein.” The URI Student Senate does not rate some mysterious exception from this principle.
The fact that SOARC is ignoring both FIRE’s letter and President Carothers’ directive that the Senate abandon its unconstitutional sanction shows that the committee is unwilling to recognize any authority higher than its own. At the SOARC meeting on Monday, Bilodeau reports that SOARC members stated that their committee does not answer to the president. This rogue attitude presents a real problem not only for the College Republicans, but for any student organization over which the committee wields control. FIRE urges the URI administration to step in, to let the Student Senators know that they cannot and must not continue to misuse and misrepresent their authority.