Phi Beta Cons

The Right take on higher education.

More on Student Fees


First, let me thank the good folks at NRO for the opportunity to participate in this forum. It is great to see a publication that represents the intellectual core of the conservative movement dedicate a blog to the ongoing cultural and political crisis in our universities.

It is remarkable the extent to which many of the topics discussed in PBC raise core constitutional issues (as a bit of background, I am an attorney and the former president of FIRE. I am now a Senior Legal Counsel at the Alliance Defense Fund and the Director of ADF’s new Center for Academic Freedom). University actions are often not just biased but actually unlawful.

Take student fees. Under the law, the only way that the student-fee system is legal is if the student fees are dispensed in a viewpoint-neutral fashion. In other words, every student group has a right to apply for and receive student fees without regard to the viewpoint of the group. So religious groups, political groups, and cultural groups should be on equal footing and receive roughly equivalent funding as their ideological counterparts. College Democrats should not be funded more than College Republicans, liberal religious groups not more than conservative groups, etc.

Yet the fact is universities use mandatory student fees to funnel vast amounts of money to explicitly leftist causes while underfunding (or de-funding entirely) conservative speech. Much, if not most, of leftist student activism is handsomely funded through the student fee. The problem is particularly acute during election season. For example, Michael Moore’s famous “Slacker Uprising Tour” in 2004 received vast amounts of student-fee funding, sometimes more than $40,000 per appearance without, corresponding amounts being made available to conservative groups. In the realm of religious speech, despite explicit Supreme Court authority to the contrary, Georgia Tech refuses to fund religious groups (ADF has sued the university to overturn this policy. And word now comes that the University of Wisconsin-Madison is engaging in religious discrimination in its student-fee system.

There are really only two options: multiple lawsuits in multiple jurisdictions to deter university misconduct, or legislative abolition of the student fee itself. Let students pay dues to join the organizations they like . . . it will save students money (at some schools the student fee can reach $500 per semester), and it will end a socialist system of forced speech.


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