BLOGHow One Student Group Made the University of Florida Campus More Open to Free Speech

By Pooja Bachani Posted on: | August 01, 2019

Imagine putting money in the bank and finding out a few months later that you don’t have access to it. Why? Because the bank doesn’t like your viewpoints.

It may sound made up, but something similar happened on the University of Florida (UF) campus last year.

There, the Young Americans for Freedom (YAF) chapter was told they did not have access to student activities fees because they were not approved by the Student Senate as a “budgeted organization.”

And when YAF applied for “budgeted” status, they were denied. Not only that, but the university allowed the student government to create more rules to make it harder for YAF to get funding.

That’s why, in December 2018, Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF) filed a lawsuit on behalf of the YAF chapter against UF for failing to distribute the student activities fee money in a viewpoint-neutral manner.

Thankfully, in response to the lawsuit, the university completely revised its policies to eliminate the provisions that were used to deny YAF funding.

To understand why this is such an important win, let’s take a look at how the UF policies previously worked. Although it was a very complex system for students to work through, the basics were as follows:

Step 1: Students pay a student activities fee at the beginning of the year or semester.

Step 2: Student groups reach out to the Student Senate to apply to receive funding from the fees the payed into.

Step 3: The Student Senate determines the amount each group will receive based on whether the organization was considered “budgeted” or “non-budgeted” or whether the senators agreed with the student group’s viewpoint or not.

But there was an unconstitutional flaw in this cash flow plan: With no clear guidelines as to what constitutes “budgeted” or “non-budgeted,” and complete discretion to deny funding to events or organizations that did not have Senate support, the student government was able to cherry-pick the organizations that got “budgeted” status, or any funding at all.

In other words, the student government could select which groups got funding based on any arbitrary reason.

And that is exactly how the university kept the YAF chapter from withdrawing its own money (so to speak).

After all, every YAF chapter member paid student activities fees, and they should have been able to receive some of that money for their group. Under this old system, there were 48 budgeted student organizations whose total budgets exceed $1 million. Several student organizations had budgets totaling more than $100,000. Meanwhile, the remaining 859 student organizations shared only $50,000 for events.

Does that seem fair to you?

On top of that, the student government even changed its special funding policy in a way that singled out the pro-freedom YAF chapter.

As a “non-budgeted” organization, the YAF chapter had been able to apply for and receive a limited payment for a speaker honorarium through the Special Request policy. But when YAF used the same process to apply for another speaker’s honorarium, the Student Government denied the request by changing its policy to make it so that only “budgeted” organizations could apply for this special funding. When YAF applied for budgeted status, it was denied.

What made this situation even worse was the fact that the university used these funds to support similar student-led organizations that promoted an opposing view. Other student organizations received speaker honorariums and were able to bring those views to campus, while YAF was not.

So, UF did not just deny YAF funding, it denied the student group the right to express its viewpoints on an equal basis – a right protected by the Constitution. By selecting which groups were allowed to bring speakers to campus, the university essentially endorsed certain views over others.

In a nutshell: under the old policies, the university had free rein to decide which student organizations got their money back from the “bank” of student activity fees with no one to check them…until YAF reached out to ADF.

Now, thanks to these students’ willingness to take a stand, the university and its student government can no longer cherry-pick which views are brought to campus! All funding requests that meet the viewpoint-neutral criteria will be approved.

The UF campus will now be more open to a variety of viewpoints. And that’s not just a win for YAF – it’s a win for the entire student body.

Pooja Bachani

Social Media Manager

Pooja Bachani serves the Social Media Manager at Alliance Defending Freedom.

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