WORCESTER, Mass., June 17, 2020 — The Worcester State University chapter of Turning Point USA, previously denied student group recognition by the student government because of its conservative viewpoint, now has most privileges of an official student organization. The university’s counsel clarified the group’s status on Thursday following discussions with the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education.
Worcester State’s counsel confirmed that the group can now recruit members and plan events for the upcoming semester. The group does not yet have access to student fees, but will be afforded all privileges if approved for recognition in the fall. FIRE advocated on behalf of the group since March, when it wrote to Worcester State to reverse the student government’s viewpoint discriminatory rejection of the club.
“This is a win for students’ free association rights at Worcester State,” said Katlyn Patton, program officer in FIRE’s Individual Rights Defense Program. “But students shouldn’t have to enlist the help of an outside organization for months simply to exercise their rights to form a political student group. I encourage student government representatives across the country to take a good look at this case and think twice before denying a student group because they don’t agree with its political viewpoint.”
In February, Worcester State students Anthony Winship and Alvin Marchena appeared before the university’s student government on behalf of their proposed student organization, TPUSA Worcester. After a presentation, they fielded questions from student senators for over an hour concerning their views and the views of TPUSA’s national organization. On March 5, the student government notified Winship and Marchena that their club had been denied official university recognition because of the potential “negative impact on campus climate.”
FIRE’s March 16 letter to Worcester State reminded President Barry Maloney of the public university’s obligation to respect student free association rights. The university may delegate some responsibilities — such as approving student groups — to the student government, but the same First Amendment obligations apply. The student government’s rejection of TPUSA Worcester for its impact on “campus climate” due to its political views is an impermissible violation of the First Amendment.
“We’re in a good spot,” said Winship. “We would not have agreed to a compromise if we didn’t think it would lead to full approval. We are excited to get a fair chance in front of the [student government] senate. We don’t plan on stopping until we become official.”
The university’s action helps shore up the group members’ rights for now, and FIRE will monitor the situation to ensure the student government uses a viewpoint-neutral approval process when TPUSA Worcester reapplies for recognition in the fall.
FIRE encourages students around the country who are facing viewpoint discrimination challenges in forming student groups to pull the FIRE alarm.
The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) is a nonpartisan, nonprofit organization dedicated to defending and sustaining the individual rights of students and faculty members at America’s colleges and universities. These rights include freedom of speech, freedom of association, due process, legal equality, religious liberty, and sanctity of conscience — the essential qualities of liberty.
Daniel Burnett, Assistant Director of Communications, FIRE: 215-717-3473; firstname.lastname@example.org