Questions and Answers Regarding the Student Newspaper, The Medium
April 23, 2004
How do student groups register for university recognition?
A student group is generally entitled to register at one of the colleges if it has a minimum number of members (Rutgers College requires at least 15 active student members) and its student officers are in good academic standing. It also must submit a constitution that, among other things, agrees to allow any Rutgers student to become a member of the organization at that college.
How does a student group obtain student fee money?
All student groups must be registered with individual colleges in order to request student fee money for their events and programs from the student fee board. Groups apply to individual college governing associations, which are made up of students. The student fee board of the governing association reviews each request and allocates funds. In requesting student fees, the student organization must provide details of its activities and the costs involved.
Monies allocated, but not used, are returned each semester to the pool of funds available for other student activities and programs. The United States Supreme Court has found that it is impermissible for a university to deny registration or access to facilities based upon concerns with a student organization's viewpoint. Relevant case law also has determined that student boards responsible for allocating student fees must protect student organizations' First Amendment right of free speech.
Does The Medium receive tuition or tax dollars?
No registered student groups receive any funding from university tuition or state appropriations (tax dollars). Student organizations are eligible for funding from "student activity fees," which are paid by students and allocated by students. Each student pays a relatively small fee to support student activities in general, and these fees are administered by a student fee board of each individual college governing association.
Could Rutgers legally decline to register The Medium as a recognized student group on account of the content of the publication?
No, not if The Medium satisfies all procedural requirements. The United States Supreme Court has held that the First Amendment of the United States Constitution requires that a public university be "viewpoint neutral" regarding the university's recognition of student groups. That means Rutgers is legally prohibited from declining to register a particular student group solely on account of the viewpoints of the organization or its members.
Can the university withhold the allocation of student fees from The Medium on account of the content of the publication?
The university may not withhold recognition of a student organization based on its viewpoint. Similarly, funds are allocated to registered student organizations by student-run fee boards, and the university may not overrule the board's decision based on an organization's viewpoint.
Content printed in The Medium has been labeled offensive and racist by members of the university community, including students and administrators. Why can't this organization be banned on the basis of printing "hate speech"?
Courts have consistently invalidated university speech codes or policies that have attempted to ban "hate speech." These decisions are based upon United States Supreme Court rulings on the First Amendment. The Supreme Court has, in effect, ruled that a university may sanction speech that harasses, defames, damages property or is intended as a prelude to immediate physical harm. However, speech that is extremely objectionable, including highly offensive ethnic slurs, may not be restrained by the university. It is important to remember that Rutgers does not endorse these viewpoints but is restrained from prohibiting their expression.
Do the obligations of a public university like Rutgers differ from those of a private institution toward their student organizations?
The First Amendment is applicable to federal and state public bodies. Some private educational institutions are not subject to the First Amendment or state law equivalents and, thus, may restrict student speech in a manner that a public institution cannot.