Today’s press release announces that after a months-long showdown over the University of Rhode Island (URI) College Republicans’ satirical “scholarship” for white, heterosexual American males, the Student Senate has finally acknowledged its constitutional obligations. At the Senate meeting last night, the Executive Committee voted against last week’s proposed bill to derecognize the College Republicans because they refused to publicly apologize for advertising the “scholarship.” Senate President Neil Leston instead proposed a new bill that requires the group to issue explanations of their intentions to all the students who applied for the “scholarship.” The bill also provides for the Senate to serve in an advisory role to the group for one year to ensure that all URI bylaws are followed. The College Republicans, satisfied that they no longer have to make public statements with which they disagree, have no qualms with the resolution.
The amount of public outcry that arose in response to this case was truly remarkable—our supporters brought public pressure to bear on the Student Senate and the URI administration, and national and local media seized upon the chance to castigate the Senate for its unconstitutional actions. Just yesterday, Luke blogged about The Providence Journal editorial board piece that called for the Student Senate to respect free expression and satire. The ACLU’s letter at the end of last week also doubtlessly helped convince the Student Senate that compelling speech is not an acceptable option.
As this situation reaches a conclusion, a significant burden still rests with the URI administration. There is obviously a misunderstanding among the Student Senate about from where its power derives and about the full extent of its authority. The Senate, which controls funding for student activities and wields at least some influence over URI students, should never have so seriously considered stripping students of their constitutional rights. Constitutional and moral obligations to uphold URI students’ rights need to be made clear.