Scott Tibbs
Published at Enter Stage Right, 04-03-2000

Back to opinion page.

Theft is not free speech

The U.S. Supreme Court recently handed down a unanimous 9-0 decision asserting the mandatory student activity fee system at public universities is not unconstitutional, over the objections of conservative students that objected to being forced to subsidize gay groups on campus through their student activity fee.

One could argue both sides of the case constitutionally. While the conservative students argue that a state-supported university should not force them to support student groups that promote an agenda contrary to their faith, one could also argue that those students did not have to go to that school. The point could also be made that the fees are part of the package one agrees to when attending a public university. But the students certainly have a good point.

Whether or not the fees are unconstitutional does not make them right, and this should not be an issue of division between conservatives and leftists. Just as a conservative Christian student should not have money forcibly confiscated from him and given to homosexual or pro-abortion groups, a leftist student should not be forced to subsidize a Christian group. Both scenarios smack of socialism.

If a student group is viable and serves a useful purpose, then that group should be able to raise funds to survive on its own. They should either be able to get funds from alumni, or voluntarily from the student body. If a group cannot raise enough money to survive, then that group should not exist. In addition, many times a student group gets funds not for operating expenses, but for frivolous events. Every single year, money forcibly taken from Indiana University students funds a "pageant" put on by OUT (Indiana University's homosexual group) where drag queens compete for the crown of "Miss Gay IU". One can certainly understand the objections of Christian students who believe they should not be forced to subsidize such events.

At Indiana University in the spring of 1996, the local arm of Ralph Nader's Public Interest Research Group (PIRG) conspired with the university to create a highly onerous "negative check off" that would have royally cheated IU students. Indiana PIRG's plan would be similar to the optional donation IU students can give to the rape crisis center in Bloomington by checking a box when they register for classes each semester. InPIRG's plan would have placed a negative check off on the registration systems, meaning that if students did NOT want to donate to InPIRG they would have to explicitly check off the box negating the fee. Since thousands of students simply want to register for classes and get back to their normal routine, this scheme would have gone unnoticed until students found it on their bill.

This generated a spirited response by the IU College Republicans, led to the formation of an entirely new student group, IU Students Against Fee Excess (SAFE).

Nobody is arguing that controversial student groups should not have the right to exist. But it is reasonable to ask that students who do not share the viewpoint of the student groups being subsidized should not have their finances confiscated in order to give money to student groups. As the cost of higher education continues to explode, universities should be looking a ways to reduce the fees students pay, not forcing them to subsidize groups whose agenda they have a faith-based and/or moral objection to.

Public universities should not be in the business of funding student groups, whether those funds are raised through student fees, or though things like credit card fees, which are used to finance the Grass Roots Initiative Fund (GRIF) at Indiana University. GRIF funds political groups specifically, like the Women's Student Association's pro-abortion cemetery and the Collegians Activated to Liberate Life (CALL) weekend put on by IU Students for Life, both in the spring of 1998. In a perfect world, the GRIF fund should not exist, and political groups should raise money on their own rather than rely on what amounts to welfare checks from the public.

Hopefully, even though the conservative students have lost this battle, awareness can be raised to the point where an effort can be made to change university administrations and trustees and reverse these socialist schemes.