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Free speech nonprofit wants administration to rein in student government after denial of conservative group

University accused of stepping aside while student government trampled on free speech

A legal group has asked Illinois Institute of Technology administrators to step in to protect student free speech and freedom of association moving forward.

The letter came in response to the denial and withdrawal of a conservative student’s application for a Turning Point USA group this school year after an initial denial.

“Student government associations continue to abuse their power when they think no one is watching. It is important for every college to have an appeals process in place to rein them in,” Cece O’Leary, an attorney with the Southeastern Legal Foundation, told The College Fix in a phone interview on July 1.

“Although the worst free speech violations used to come from college administrators” O’Leary said, “we are finding that more and more administrators are willing to be allies to libertarian and conservative students in the fight against unconstitutional student government policies.”

The Turning Point USA group, led by Nathan Scott, allegedly faced harassment from peers at the private university, including “threatening texts,” according to the letter.

“The goal is to get the administrators to support students against their student government,” O’Leary said, providing an explanation of what the demand letter wants to accomplish.

She said that students no longer have an ally in their student government.

SLF, which represents students on First Amendment and other Constitutional issues, sent a letter to the university administration in June, but has yet to hear back directly from them.

The legal nonprofit became concerned about the freedom of association rights and freedom of speech rights of conservative and libertarian students after learning about how one student had been denied the ability to form a group.

Student government bullies student into withdrawing application

Southeastern Legal sent a letter to the administration on June 1 in response to Scott’s withdrawal of his application for a TPUSA group. The Fix has not received a response to multiple emails sent in the past several weeks to the university’s media relations department.

“We are writing to you with concerns about the recent treatment of conservative and libertarian students at Illinois Institute of Technology,” the letter from Kimberly Hermann, general counsel for the legal nonprofit said. Southeastern Legal is not representing Scott, but has sent the letter in the interest of protecting free speech on campus.

It said further:

These students have been threatened, harassed, and alienated all because of their viewpoints. More egregiously, their own Student Government Association (SGA) has outright denied certain opportunities to these students—like forming an organization with their peers—purely because of their views. As the representative body of all students, SGA has failed to fulfill its obligation to its constituents, even those with whom SGA members may disagree.

Southeastern Legal demanded answers from the administration on potential appeal processes and urged the school leadership to get involved to stop the SGA’s discrimination.

“We urge Illinois Tech to impose reasonable restraints on SGA so the organization does not continue to abuse its authority against conservative and libertarian students,” Hermann said. “We also encourage the College to define the appeals process available to student leaders in a readily available, easy to-access location.”

MORE: TPUSA activists refuse to let university denial stop it

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About the Author
Jessica Custodio -- State University of New York-Duchess