SAN DIEGO (CN) – Students at a California State University campus who hold anti-abortion views won a policy change in the way student-raised funding is divvied up among campus groups under the terms of a settlement announced Tuesday.
Students for Life chapter president Nathan Apodaca sued CSU San Marcos in 2017 claiming the university favored LGBTQ students by allocating more than half of mandatory student-activity fees from the 2016-17 school year – $300,000 – to the Gender Equity Center and LGBTQIA Pride Centers on campus.
But when Apodaca’s group requested a $500 grant to bring an anti-abortion speaker to campus, the university denied the request.
His application had been denied because it was incomplete and did not follow eligibility guidelines for funding which expressly prohibit funding for honorariums and speaker fees. But Apodaca claimed when he attempted to get the Gender Equity Center or Pride Center to co-sponsor the event with Students for Life, the centers said they lacked money to co-sponsor an event and planned their events 14 months in advance.
Last year, U.S. District Judge James Lorenz found funding disbursement by Associated Students Inc., the nonprofit arm which oversees student body organization programs at the university, was not based on “viewpoint-neutral criteria.”
While the judge found Apodaca’s funding application was denied based on the rule prohibiting the use of student funds to pay speakers, he took issue with funding procedures generally and found they “do not contain any express policy prohibiting viewpoint discrimination.”
That ruling prompted negotiations which led to a settlement Tuesday. Under the settlement, the CSU Chancellor’s Office must issue a policy directive to all 23 campuses advising that policies and procedures for allocating student association funds for student speech events must be based on criteria that are viewpoint neutral.
CSU San Marcos must also provide petitioners the opportunity to appeal a funding denial, a recourse that was unavailable to Apodaca when his grant request was denied.
Retroactive to July 1, 2019, the campus’ Gender Equity Center and Pride Center will no longer be funded by the mandatory student association fee charged to students. Both are now funded with state money rather than student fees.
CSU San Marcos will also pay Apodaca’s $240,000 attorney’s fees in addition to making a $3,000 damages payment to the Students for Life chapter at CSU San Marcos and reimbursing Apodaca the $300 in student association fees he paid while a student at the university.
Apodaca was represented by conservative nonprofit legal service provider Alliance Defending Freedom.
In a statement, Alliance Defending Freedom attorney Caleb Dalton said public universities should encourage the free exchange of ideas rather than only funding “their favorite groups.”
“We’re grateful the district court rejected the university’s unfair, secretive, and discriminatory policy and that the university has agreed to allocate student fees only in a viewpoint-neutral manner, instead of picking favorites,” Dalton said.
“The university system’s policy changes don’t simply benefit our clients but also benefit any student with a minority viewpoint and every citizen who cares about dialogue and intellectual freedom within our public colleges and university communities,” he added.
In a joint statement, CSU San Marcos and the CSU Office of the Chancellor said while Judge Lorenz didn’t find the university or Associated Students intentionally engaged in viewpoint discrimination, he did find the funding process used by Associated Students was inadequate and needed to be changed.
“We embrace the notion that universities must be a marketplace of ideas, and that this is essential to the educational process as students critically examine new ideas, learning from the perspectives of others,” the university said in a statement.
“As a result, Associated Students has made the necessary changes to its rules and regulations regarding funding moving forward. Overall the process was a collaborate effort, by both sides, to strengthen viewpoint neutrality at this very diverse campus.”
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