Due to the 2000 U.S. Supreme Court ruling in University of Wisconsin v. Southworth, the UC office of the president released a new draft of the student fee policy to each university to review and suggest changes.
The Berkeley Graduate Assembly, which encountered problems when they were not allowed to spend their funds on the campaign against Proposition 54, has mixed feelings.
‘Some of the changes in the new policy are good, but we are still concerned with a few aspects as was laid out in the recent update,’ said Jessica Quindel President of the Berkeley Graduate Assembly Jessica.
Quindel is concerned that the new policy restricts the power of the student governments within the UC such as ASUCI to lobby and use their funds to campaign on ballot initiatives, while Registered Campus Organizations, or RCOs, are allowed free reign. The policy categorizes student governments as ‘official’ units of the school and should therefore be limited on their actions.
‘Without using our resources [including mandatory student fees], our voice is much less powerful, organized and meaningful,’ Quindel said. ‘In the face of $5,000 fee increases for professional students and 40 percent fee increases for graduate students, as well as disabling cuts to the UC budget primarily affecting student services, students cannot afford to be cut from having a say on political issues that would impact this and other situations students face.’
ASUCI Executive Vice President, Christina Gagnier expressed the importance of student governments lobbying.
‘Lobbying is the most effective power that we as students possess,’ Gagnier said. ‘The community colleges went up to Sacramento to voice their opinion on the budget cuts, while we did not. Now they have less of a budget cut.’
Students currently pay a student government fee that is specifically distributed to fund a broad range of extracurricular student activities including student government and RCOs. The Southworth case maintains that the student-fee derived expenditures have to be made in a neutral viewpoint. In other words, the viewpoints of an organization cannot be a factor in how much funding it receives. This does not mean that any group making a controversial stand will be allotted funds nor does it mean that all organizations are given the same amount of funds. Individual organizations have different needs and each will be individually assessed by ASUCI.
Gagnier suggests a more clarified and specified term in place of ‘viewpoint neutrality,’
‘[ASUCI] only funds fiscally sound events,’ Gagnier said. ‘The views of the event play no part. We assess the event through its past success and its current organization.’
Byron Breland, director of student judicial affairs and an assistant dean of students explained the need for ASUCI’s mission to be made clear.
‘Clarification is definitely needed,’ Breland said. ‘The policy needs to clarify ASUCI’s mission and how they fund that mission.’
According to the University of California Student Association, the UC is also proposing to abolish the referendum process in this new draft. This would eliminate students’ ability to vote on how student fees are allocated. The UC believes the current referendum process contradicts the viewpoint-neutral principle, in that whichever organization took the popular view would receive more money through the vote.
According to Rob Thompson, the Center for Campus Free Speech organizer, although referendum is not viewpoint neutral, there is no reason to ban it because it is not illegal.
‘If referendum was the only means for organizations to get money, then all unpopular viewpoints would not get funded,’ Thompson said. ‘As long as there are other ways for organizations to get money, there is no problem.’
Quindel believes the university is wrong to take away the student’s right to vote on how fees should be allocated.
‘All UC students should have the right to vote to spend their fees on activities in which they believe,’ Quindel said.’We hope to negotiate with the university on these issues, but are willing to take this issue to court in the event the university places unnecessary restrictions on these free speech rights.’
ASUCI is working on compiling their list of suggested changes before the review date on March 26.
‘The Senate has established a committee to look over the policy and recommend the changes they want,’ Gagnier said.
Thompson encourages students to go to www.free speech.com to send statements of support to the UC Office of the President in regards to the problems with the new policy draft expressed by student governments.
Byron feels that students should take whatever actions they feel are necessary.
‘They have the right to pursue appropriate legal action if they feel that their rights have been violated,’ Breland said. ‘The review is in its second and last stage and the final policy should be instated by fall 2004. As of now, nothing has yet been changed.’