New UC guidelines restrict student government campaign financing

    Student lobbying groups have expressed dissatisfaction over some restrictions on student government funding set in the new draft of guidelines released by the UC Office of the President on Feb. 4.

    The new draft prohibits student government use of student fees in funding “”non-university political campaigns,”” which include ballot initiatives. This would disallow such student government action as the contentious allocation of $35,000 by the UC Berkeley Graduate Student Assembly to a “”No on Prop. 54″” campaign in fall 2003.

    UCOP is in the process of updating the guidelines to comply with a 1999 Supreme Court ruling calling for campus student organizations to be funded on a viewpoint-neutral basis. The final version is expected be ready by spring quarter. In the meantime, student governments and administrators from each campus have one month to give UCOP feedback.

    The UC Student Association has also been involved with the university in negotiating the new draft.

    “”We’ve been involved since the beginning to develop a compromise, and it continues to be a compromise,”” UCSA chairman Matt Kaczmarek said in response to the latest draft.

    He said that UCSA was pleased with the guidelines’ clear definitions of viewpoint neutrality, allowing student organizations to engage in a wide range of activities, but disappointed with the provisions on student government lobbying.

    “”It puts unnecessary restrictions on student government,”” Kaczamrek said.

    Rob Thompson, an organizer at the Boston-based Center for Campus Free Speech, echoed the complaint.

    “”I don’t understand why the university is choosing to limit the voice of democratically elected advocates of the students, especially in California where working on ballot initiatives is so important,”” he said.

    Thompson said he feels that the draft is inconsistent with the U.S. Supreme Court’s Board of Regents of the University of Wisconsin v. Southworth decision, in which it was stated that universities are free to fund any array of student organizations with student fees so long as the university believes those activities to be consistent with the educational mission of the university.

    “”They can’t say ballot initiatives aren’t educational, because they’ve said it for years, and have allowed student organizations to speak on it,”” Thompson said. “”They’re basically singling out the student governments, and in that sense, they’re violating their first amendment rights.””

    UCOP officials said they will not be commenting until the guidelines are finalized.

    Another change in the new draft raising concerns is a provision that prohibits students from voting in campus referenda to allocate funds to specific student activities.

    Thompson said the University of California is unique in his experience with universities nationwide.

    “”I think California has a strong fee system simply in that they let student organizations get involved in a wide variety of issues,”” he said. “”But the restrictions on student government I haven’t encountered before.””

    A.S. Vice President External Harish Nandagopal said he will be working on lobbying the UCSD administration and UCOP about the issue.

    “”UCSD historically hasn’t been very good about forwarding our input to UCOP, so we have to make sure that happens this time,”” Nandagopal said.

    Kaczamarek said UCSA plans to submit their own suggestions as well as make sure each campus’ administrators and student government do the same.

    “”UCSA’s objective is to build some kind of consensus throughout the system,”” he said. “”I don’t expect the final draft to be very different, but there’s definitely possibility for improvement on many points.””

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