It’s always tea time in Student Government land. One of the fascinating developments over Winter Break was the news of Young Americans for Freedom suing Student Government over claims of free speech violations. (Long story short, YAF wanted money to bring speakers in; SG said no.)
Now, I know many folks may dismiss this as an attention ploy, but I see a couple of good points in the thick of things. I’ve watched YAF try to get funding for a couple years now, and I think it’s worth a column or two to talk about this lawsuit and link it to some of the peculiarities of our SG. SG, ever committed to transparency, has been particularly mum on the matter, so I guess it’s up to me to try to step up to the podium.
Now, because this is about a lawsuit, I know someone, somewhere in Tigert Hall is sweating, hoping I’m not about to say something foolish. You see, the thought did cross my mind I’d get some email from an administrator after writing this first column telling me to watch my words and fear for my life, but luckily, this is a case related to free speech and our administration just had to reaffirm its commitment to free speech. So, I suppose I have a “get-out-of-jail-like-Smith-Meyers” card, and I can basically say anything.
But not to worry, for legal purposes, I will contend that I am uniquely unqualified to talk about anything SG related. You see, I’ve applied (if my personal spreadsheet is accurate) to 67 different seats on various standing committees in our Senate and have received a grand total of zero, so I clearly lack any qualifications and knowledge that would make anything I have to say about this case worthy of being uttered in court (let alone read in a newspaper).
Anyhow, there are a couple of “weird” things that made my eyebrows quiver as I read through the 45-page lawsuit. First off, the people being sued; it’s the Board of Trustees plus Gator dad UF President Kent Fuchs and VP of Student Affairs David Parrott. Almost all of these people, I personally feel, had no direct link to the whole funding shenanigans except for perhaps the Student Body president, who serves on the Board of Trustees. Really, this whole fight is centered on the actions of students, not university administrators. Perhaps it is just standard to sue the trustees, perhaps administrators could have stepped in. I’m unsure.
Now, I don’t mean to generalize political leanings into a binary, but I think it’s worth commenting on how YAF and many of the power brokers in SG are conservatives. So, this isn’t necessarily your stereotypical case of conservative students getting dunked on in a liberal campus.
One of the actions YAF is taking issue with is a recent revision to our financial code that bars student organizations from receiving funding for honorariums or speakers through the allocations committee (what YAF had been attempting to do). The chairs of the allocations and budget and appropriations committees are listed as the authors and according to state voter records; both are registered Republicans. That’s going to be interesting to explain in court.
Now, I’ll mention what I think is SG’s viewpoint since I’m fair and balanced like Fox News; I can see that SG might have viewed YAF as trying to bite off more than its share of the $50,000 allocated to non-budgeted student organizations. The lawsuit mentions 871 student organizations not being on that budget cycle (though only those who qualify for funding from Allocations can draw from that 50,000). If a single organization wants to ask for $5,000 for a single speaker for a single event, that’s already a decent chunk of the money that’s supposed to go toward many organizations.
There’s a lot to talk here: funding for other political organizations, a lack of appeals system and so on. Luckily, just like this lawsuit, there’s more to come in the future
Zachariah Chou is a UF political science junior and Murphree Area Senator. His column appears on Fridays.