The Supreme Court’s decision in the Board of Regents of the University of Wisconsin System v. Southworth – that student money must be allocated regardless of a group’s viewpoint – should not, and must not, affect the way we, at UCSB, fund organizations.
Southworth requires viewpoint neutrality in the case of mandatory, nonrefundable fees. However, lock-in fees for students at UCSB are refundable, meaning if you don’t like where your money is going you can ask for it back.
Some members of the University of California administration have suggested that our current system for allocating funds is seriously out of sync with Southworth, specifically, that viewpoint neutrality requires there cannot be significant funding differences between different organizations, or that there must be a cap in funding.
Their argument goes something like this: Because Southworth requires that our funding system be open to everyone, every group is now going to be clamoring for more money. Viewpoint neutrality requires that we fund everyone. If we don’t fund everyone with what they ask for, then we could be sued under Southworth. Pretty soon, we will run out of money or have to raise the student activities fee to an astronomical level in order to accommodate all groups’ requests. The only way to ensure student government doesn’t go bankrupt, student fees don’t skyrocket and we don’t violate the viewpoint neutrality requirements is to redesign our funding system so it rewards every viewpoint equally. To do this, we either put a cap on how much money an organization receives, or we grant all organizations the same amount of money.
The argument for funding caps and equal funding levels, as convincing as it may sound, is deeply flawed, for several reasons.
Viewpoint neutrality is about the process of allocating monies to different organizations, not the outcome. Different organizations have, and always will have, different needs. Some organizations will only need sponsorship in order to meet in rooms at the UCen. Some will only need money to print flyers. Some will need more money to run an after-school tutoring program and bring speakers to campus. Still others will be even more ambitious and want to create programs that give students a chance to participate in decisions made in the halls of the county commission, Sacramento or Washington D.C.
There has always been room for all these kinds of activities to exist, even though they require different levels of resources. Southworth does not change this; it only requires that funding differences be based not on viewpoint, but on the mission and educational merit of the activities proposed.
An example: Say that you have two groups. One is called “Save the Whales,” and it requests $600 to hold a “Save the Whales” week in which they distribute information, bring organizations to campus and host a slide show. The other group is called “Kill the Whales.” It requests $10,000 to do the above, plus run an elementary tutorial program on the economic virtues of whale hunting, bring a speaker to campus from the Coalition to Eliminate the Endangered Species Act and fund a bus to drive students to Sacramento to lobby for weakening of the California Species Protection Act. It would be perfectly legitimate to fund both organizations at the amount they request, so long as the funding decisions were based on what activities were being proposed, not the viewpoint being espoused.
Further, if the “Kill the Whales” group requested $10,000, but this time it was to fund an end-of-the-year “Yummy Whales Barbecue” and award a gold-plated harpoon for the Whale Hater of the Year, A.S. could legitimately deny the request, on the grounds that the activities were either illegal (it is illegal to eat whales) or unnecessarily extravagant (the harpoon doesn’t need to be gold-plated), given limited resources.
The Legislative Council of California, the legal office for the California State Legislature, has endorsed the fact that, under a viewpoint-neutral funding system, funding levels may be significantly different for different groups, so long as funding differences are not because of the views expressed by any of the groups.
Viewpoint neutrality does not mean everyone gets the same amount of money. It means everyone gets the same opportunity and consideration.
Mel Fabi is a senior Chicano studies and film studies major.