For many years now, I’ve become increasingly aware of — and agitated by — what is best termed “disparate bureaucratic impact.” Simply put, it’s the common university practice of using the bureaucratic process to help leftist students fund their message while placing miles of red tape between conservatives and university funds.
In response to my recent post on the unconstitutional student-fee system at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, I received the following from a Michigan alum:
When I was in grad school at the University of Michigan, I was elected to serve on Rackham Student Government, the graduate school student government. Pretty much all we did was hand out money (from “student activity fees”) to student groups.
. . .
I noticed that when some wacky, off-the-wall, lefty group came to Rackham Student Government to ask for money, it was a pretty much rubber-stamped “yes.” When certain other groups did, namely, conservative groups, Jewish groups, Christian groups, they were made to jump through ALL the hoops. They HAD to show that a certain percentage of the people who would benefit from the event for which money was being sought were Rackham (graduate) Students. They HAD to show where the rest of their funding was coming. They HAD to show their budget. (Whenever Jewish organizations asked for money, the discussion ALWAYS devolved to “Well, the Jewish Community in Ann Arbor already has a lot of money; they can get it from them . . .”)
Most members of the RSG were looking for reasons to say “NO” to certain student groups (i.e., the Christi[an], Jewish and conservative groups). For other student groups (the wacky, off-the-wall, lefty groups), most members of RSG didn’t want to hear a reason to say, “NO.” So even though not a single member of a student dance troupe was in the graduate school, and the group had no well-thought-out plan on funding or any sort of budget, the vote was to give them money to them for a trip to Cuba. (“Because when they come back, grad student might benefit from attending a performance.”) But when grad students were fully 15 percent of a Jewish group that was seeking funding to send some students to an AIPAC conference, the answer was “NO” because “it wouldn’t provide a sufficient benefit to graduate students at the University of Michigan.”
What should conservative students take from tales like this? First, be persistent. When you (eventually) jump through all the bureaucratic hoops, the university will face a decision on the merits. At that point, you can’t lose: You’ll either get your program funded or you’ll have a gift-wrapped First Amendment challenge.
Second, document everything. And that means paying attention to the scrutiny (or lack thereof) given to other groups. Student governments may enjoy rubber stamping liberal applications now, but those rubber stamps are much less enjoyable later, when they’re asked about double standards under oath.
Finally, don’t be discouraged. The establishment’s bureaucratic guardians count on you giving up and moving on. You have to outlast and outwork them, and that sometimes means creating institutions (like student newspapers) that will live on long after you’re gone.
The law mandates viewpoint neutrality. Students can’t let administrations reverse through red tape rights that have been won through litigation.