April 19, 2007

URI Student Senate to College Republicans: You Are Free to Express Any Opinion (That We Approve Of), In Any Manner (That We Approve Of)

Carroll Andrew Morse

One of these things is not like the others…

1647: Rhode Island adopts its first code of laws. In stark contrast to codes enacted in colonies like Maryland or Massachusetts around the same time, the code imposes no penalties for “blasphemy” or uttering “any reproachful words or speeches”.

One of these things just doesn’t belong…

1842: Rhode Island adopts its first state constitution by popular referendum. The constitution includes guarantees of freedom of speech and freedom of the press. Here’s the freedom of the press clause…

The liberty of the press being essential to the security of freedom in a state, any person may publish sentiments on any subject

Can you tell which thing is not like the others…

1920: Rhode Island native (and Harvard Law professor) Zechariah Chafee publicly criticizes the Sedition Act of 1918, an attempt to limit criticism of the government of the US…

One of the most important purposes of society and government is the discovery and spread of truth on subjects of general concern. This is possible only through absolutely unlimited discussion

Before I finish my song…

2007: The Organizations Advisory and Review Committee of the University of Rhode Island Student Senate votes to derecognize the URI College Republicans, because of their staging of a satire questioning whether any race or gender limited scholarship can be consistent with an anti-discrimination policy. The Student Senate’s position is that is has the right to treat URI Republicans differently from other organizations, because of an opinion they have expressed, unless they offer a public apology.

Randal Edgar of the Projo has some details…

The College Republicans at the University of Rhode Island say their ad for a “White Heterosexual American Male” scholarship was just a satirical prank, intended to voice the group’s opposition to affirmative action….

The scholarship has drawn attention from more than the three dozen students who applied for it.

Among them is the Student Senate, which told the College Republicans last month to apologize for the ad and for handing out scholarship applications. Also interested is URI President Robert L. Carothers, who recently told the Senate to back off. Forcing the Republicans to apologize, or make statements that “are not their own,” could deny them their constitutional rights, he wrote in a recent memo to the student body.

As of yesterday, the Student Senate was standing its ground....

Student Senate President Neil Leston said the student government got involved after a letter to the editor in the college paper suggested the ad was discriminatory and had violated the Senate’s bylaws. He said the number of students who applied for the scholarship — about 40 according to the Republican club — suggests that some people took the ad seriously.

“The big issue is they did not identify it as satire and that becomes problematic,” he said.

When Neil Leston and the rest of URI’s student Senators are deciding how to vote, will they also be considering a resolution of protest against the many other scholarships sanctioned by the University of Rhode Island that are limited by race or gender? Here are two examples from the official URI webpage
  • Robert L. Carothers and Patricia Ruane Scholarship: Income from endowment for scholarships to minority students.

  • Mary Braga Scholarship: Income from endowment for a scholarship to a female undergraduate in the College of Arts and Sciences of Portuguese descent. Preference will be given to a Rhode Island resident and to the older student. The dean of the College of Arts and Sciences will determine the recipient.
If the question never crosses the minds of URI's student solons, that could explain why the URI Republicans thought they needed a satire to bring their point home. Whether the URI Student Senate likes it or not, some people believe that non-discrimination policies should be truly race and gender neutral. And in the United States, those people have the right to express that opinion.

The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education has more detail on the case here.
"One of these Things" written by Joe Raposo and Jon Stone.

Comments, although monitored, are not necessarily representative of the views Anchor Rising's contributors or approved by them. We reserve the right to delete or modify comments for any reason.

Odd, Justin, that you would take issue with the suppression of freedom of speech, in light of the fact that you "Forbid entry" for posts that you don't like.

Posted by: TR at April 19, 2007 12:13 PM

Schools don't need to allow for free speech.

That being said, I expect the ACLU to come swooping in to save the Young Republicans.

Posted by: Greg at April 19, 2007 1:01 PM


This is a public institution owned by the taxpayers of RI. If this was a private institution (or a private blog such as this) then I would agree with you. However, as a public institution then URI should not be able to place no greater restrictions on speech than those that are placed on the public in general. That may not be agreeable to all, but it's a consequence of being public entity.

Posted by: tcc3 at April 19, 2007 1:49 PM

Greg, the school isn't being asked to allow for free speech. The school is being asked not to punish the College Republicans for their speech, and not to pressure them to make statements that they don't believe.

And there's no way that the ACLU will help the College Republicans. If they get involved, it'll be on the side of the university to protect the sacred right of public universities to force students to pay for speech they hate.

Posted by: Ben Bateman at April 19, 2007 1:57 PM

University of Rhode Island Student Senate Dumps College Republicans
Defies University President Order to Follow First Amendment

April 18, 2007

FIRE Press Release
PROVIDENCE, R.I., April 18, 2007—Displaying a dramatic disregard for students’ constitutional rights, a committee of the University of Rhode Island (URI) Student Senate voted on Monday to derecognize the College Republicans student group. For months, the Student Senate has demanded that the group publicly apologize for advertising a satirical $100 “scholarship” for white, heterosexual, American males. The College Republicans refused to apologize and contacted the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) for help. FIRE is now calling upon URI President Robert Carothers, who has already informed the Senate that it could not compel student speech, to reverse the decision to derecognize the group.

“Neither the Student Senate nor anyone else at URI has the power to force the College Republicans to say things against their will,” FIRE President Greg Lukianoff said. “As bad as it may be to tell people what they cannot say, it is still worse to tell them what they must say. The Supreme Court has long recognized that compelled speech is not compatible with free societies. It is stunning that URI’s student government would show such contempt for fundamental rights, especially after URI’s own president explained it to them.”

The College Republicans student organization first advertised the satirical “White, Heterosexual, American Male” “scholarship” in November, 2006. The scholarship consisted of a nominal $100 to be awarded to someone fitting those criteria who submitted an application and an essay on the adversities he has faced. College Republicans President Ryan Bilodeau explained that the point was to use satire to protest scholarships awarded on the basis of race, gender, or nationality. Over 40 URI students applied for the “scholarship,” many submitting equally satirical application essays.

In a meeting on February 19, the Student Senate’s Student Organizations Advisory and Review Committee (SOARC) prohibited the College Republicans from disbursing the money. The group agreed that it would not give out the $100, but SOARC decided that even advertising the satirical “scholarship” violated URI’s anti-discrimination bylaws and demanded that the group publish an apology in the campus newspaper. Unwilling to apologize, Bilodeau appealed SOARC’s decision. The Senate denied that appeal.

FIRE wrote to Senate President Neil Cavanaugh on March 13, stating that because the Student Senate derives its authority from a public university, it must comply with the First Amendment prohibition on compelled speech. The Student Senate, however, in a memo to the College Republicans on March 27, ruled again that the College Republicans must publish an apology and claimed authority to force them to do so. That sanction was later reduced to an “explanation” to be published in the campus newspaper and a mandatory apology to be sent to all of the students who applied for the scholarship.

The College Republicans agreed to publish an explanation of its intentions, but refused to write any apologies. FIRE wrote to URI President Robert Carothers the following day to urge him to intervene in the situation. FIRE wrote, “URI administrators have a legal duty to step in where the Student Senate has failed and to check its attempt to trample upon students’ most basic freedom of conscience.” And in a letter dated April 6, President Carothers did indeed instruct the Senate in no uncertain terms to drop its unconstitutional demand for an apology. Carothers wrote that the mandatory apology “does not meet constitutional standards as laid forth in the First Amendment and in subsequent court decisions interpreting the standard.”

But at a meeting on Monday night, SOARC nonetheless unanimously voted to ignore both its constitutional obligations and Carothers’ directive and derecognize the College Republicans for refusing to issue an apology. SOARC’s decision will be voted on by the entire Student Senate on Wednesday, April 25.

FIRE wrote another letter to Carothers yesterday calling upon him to immediately reverse SOARC’s decision to derecognize the group. FIRE wrote that “[b]y fulfilling this responsibility as a public official, you can teach the Senate leadership that they must respect the rights of URI students and help to instill in them an understanding of the full repercussions for repeatedly and recklessly defying the Constitution.”

“URI’s student government thinks it is above the law—that it can take fees extracted from students by a state university and yet ignore the constitutional obligations that come with them. It is sadly mistaken,” Lukianoff said. “President Carothers must act now to stop this rogue organization from conducting these unlawful acts under the aegis of the university.”

FIRE is a nonprofit educational foundation that unites civil rights and civil liberties leaders, scholars, journalists, and public intellectuals from across the political and ideological spectrum on behalf of individual rights, due process, freedom of expression, academic freedom, and rights of conscience at our nation’s colleges and universities. FIRE’s efforts to preserve liberty universities across America can be viewed at www.thefire.org.

Posted by: Aldo at April 19, 2007 5:03 PM

I think President Carothers has been as as clear and unambiguous as I can ever recall him being, in directing that the URI Student Senate take no punative actions toward the URI College Republicans because of what is clearly protected political speech. The First Amendment isn't only for protecting the speech we agree with -- I just wish some of the student senate folks understood that.

While the URI Student Senate may like to consider themselves as an "independent" organization, they simply are not. They derive all of their authority, as well as their finances, both directly and indirectly from the university. Unless I hear otherwise, I'm not under the impression that President Carothers is championing the URI CR's cause on it's considerable First Amendment merits alone. One of the unwritten jobs of a head of a college is to avoid unnecessary litagation, as well as bad press.

Carothers knows all too well that the university, as well as the Student Senate, both corporately and individually, could have considerable exposure in the event of a civil rights' lawsuit brought on behalf of the members of the URI CR's for violating their Constitutionally protected rights at a state and federally financed university. Regardless of any possible alterior motives, I'm very glad that President Carothers has publicly put himself on the right side of this issue. Regardless of your own personal thoughts about the particulars of this "controversy," this is about a whole lot more than the College Republicans.

PS I've talked with Ryan several times over the past few days, and I think he has handled himself in the media superbly -- and there's likely to be more coming. I don't think many are used to people standing their ground on principle alone, especially on college campuses.

Posted by: Will at April 19, 2007 5:23 PM

Chairman Ryan Bilodeau continues to do an excellent job championing conservative causes.

Posted by: James at April 19, 2007 7:35 PM

“The big issue is they did not identify it as satire ...”

Ahem. Satire doesn't usually come with a warning label.

The URI Student Senate is attempting to compel speech. (Please note that this is unconstitutional, honorable Solons.) In doing so, they have ventured into the arena of Joseph Stalin's government.

Posted by: SusanD at April 19, 2007 10:43 PM

How stupid can the Student Senate possibly be? All they've accomplished is to turn silly pranksters into free speech martyrs.

Posted by: rhody at April 19, 2007 11:40 PM

APRIL 19, 2007

The Rhode Island Republican Assembly (RIRA) hereby announces its support for the University of Rhode Island College Republicans (www.urigop.org) in their efforts to exercise their Constitutional rights and uphold the tradition of spirited political discourse in America.

The Founding Fathers recognized the critical importance of free and unfettered political speech, as embodied in the First Amendment to the Constitution of the United States.

RIRA applauds President Carothers, who appears to understand the critical importance of political free speech, particularly in an academic setting whose very raison d'être includes the rough-and-tumble competition between competing ideas and sometimes unpopular viewpoints.

Though the membership of the URI Student Senate have a right to disagree with the content of an advertisement, their efforts to demonize those who put forth differing intellectual ideals (White Heterosexual American Male Scholarship) indicate weakness in their chosen position; those arguing from a compelling position enthusiastically engage in vigorous discourse, while those whose position is weak or indefensible seek victory by hobbling those with whom they disagree.

In today’s politics of extremism, it must be understood that when a member of the majority has an opinion that some members in the minority disagree with, the offered opinion does not automatically constitute racism or discriminatory intent. Based upon the views being forwarded by the URI Student Senate and other URI students, one may say that the Black Caucus and the Hispanic Caucus in Congress are discriminatory and they should therefore apologize to the nation and be disbanded.

The Rhode Island Republican Assembly is an organization that believes in equality -- not only among and between individuals, but also among and between the provisions of the Constitution of the United States, such as the Tenth Amendment; the Second Amendment ... and the First Amendment!

Raymond T. McKay
President, Rhode Island Republican Assembly

19 Bakers Creek Road
Warwick, RI 02886
(401) 487-2514

State website: www.ri-ra.org
National website: www.gopwing.com

Posted by: Will at April 20, 2007 12:33 AM

That's exactly right, Rhody.

I was thinking this was a good learning experience for them in free speech. But it's also turning into a major lesson in political campaigning - to be placed in the "How Not To Give Your Opponent Lots Of Valuable Publicity" chapter.

Posted by: SusanD at April 20, 2007 6:58 AM

How is it that Negro, women's, Mexican, etc. college scholarships are legal but white only isn't?

Posted by: Mike at April 21, 2007 9:41 AM

ACLU weighs in for URI's College Republicans


SOUTH KINGSTOWN — The American Civil Liberties Union has weighed in on the side of the College Republicans in the dispute over the ad for a “White Male Heterosexual Scholarship” at the University of Rhode Island.

In a two-page letter dated April 19, the ACLU urges the URI Student Senate to halt its efforts to force the Republican club to apologize for the ad or face “de-recognition” by the university.

The First Amendment “simply does not allow the Student Senate to require the College Republicans” to make statements they do not want to make, wrote Steven Brown, executive director of the Rhode Island Affiliate of the ACLU.

The Republican club’s ad ran last fall in the college newspaper. The club accepted applications but its chairman, Ryan Bilodeau, said this week that the goal was to make a statement against affirmative action, not to award any money.

-- Journal Staff Writer Randall Edgar

So yes, the "liberal" ACLU does indeed help them. Just like they've defended Sean Hannity when he was censored.

Posted by: Jake at April 21, 2007 10:13 AM

Of course the ACLU is supporting the College Republicans. This isn't even close to being a constitutional grey area. It is clearly political speech aimed not at inciting violence, but at making a political statement. It doesn't matter whether it was intended to be satirical or not.

Last time I checked a student body that receives public funding cannot abridge the First Amendment.

The CR's should immediately call for the URI administration to cease funding the Student Senate and require all members of the Student Seante to attend a seminar on the Constitution.

Posted by: Anthony at April 21, 2007 9:26 PM

whomever said that there are not any white only scholarships is monumentally stupid. There are scholarships for italian americans, irish americans, every other dash americans you can think of.

Posted by: george at April 22, 2007 11:31 AM

The scholarships you mentioned are based on ethnicity, not race. Tiger Woods would be eligible for a Dutch-American scholarship, but most people would not consider Tiger Woods to be "white" even though he is part Dutch.

I wonder if a white African possessing US citizenship, perhaps descending from South Africa or another former British colony, would be eligible for scholarships offered to African Americans?

Posted by: Anthony at April 23, 2007 2:53 PM

I guess my point is that there scholarships that are available for white people. Why is there this emphasis on making sure that black people can not have scholarships on their own. African-Americans are in a tough position because all these other groups can have exclusive scholarships but African Americans are chastised for doing the same thing.

URI handled this poorly. That does not make the RI Republicans right.

Posted by: George at April 23, 2007 10:53 PM

Mike: "How is it that...Mexican...college scholarships are legal but white only isn't?"

George: "There are scholarships for italian americans, irish americans, every other dash americans you can think of."

Anthony: "The scholarships you mentioned are based on ethnicity, not race."

"Mexican" is not a race.

Posted by: arturo fernandez at April 24, 2007 8:14 PM
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