‘May encourage, but not require,’ joining similar club
The nascent Young Americans for Liberty club at the University of California-Berkeley said it was denied recognition last year because it was “too similar” to an existing club, the Cal Libertarians.
This policy that let university officials judge which applicants had overlapping missions with others – and deny their applications based on subjective criteria – led to a lawsuit against the taxpayer-funded institution.
Seven months later, the university’s board of regents has scrapped the policy and implemented a new policy that encourages but doesn’t force nascent clubs to talk to similar clubs first about joining their efforts.
In a settlement between the parties, the university agreed to pay $8,250 to the YAL chapter and its lawyers at the Alliance Defending Freedom and revise its “registered student organization” guidance.
The new guidance on the LEAD Center website reads:
If the description of a new student organization in a statement of purpose or uniqueness is duplicative of one or more existing RSOs, the LEAD Center may encourage, but not require, the applicant organization’s signatories to confer and collaborate with such RSOs. The LEAD Center may also ask that the group’s signatories discuss this potential duplication during the required meeting with a LEAD Center staff member (Step 2). This meeting provides a valuable opportunity for the LEAD Center staff to help student signatories think through ways their organization can make a unique, positive contribution to the University’s RSO community. …
The LEAD Center will not deny or delay RSO status to applying organizations on the basis of their statements of purpose or uniqueness, mission statement, or other viewpoint expressed in its application, so long as the organization completes the required steps of the application process.
When it sued last year, YAL noted that the university had approved multiple left-of-center groups with overlapping missions, granting them access to space for their meetings and funds from student activity fees.
The university in turn said YAL never bothered to finish the process of registering, which included conferring with the Cal Libertarians to “decide if they want to combine or remain separate.”
“By leaving decisions on whether a student group is ‘too similar’ to another club in the hands of a university official with no requirement to follow any viewpoint-neutral standards, UC-Berkeley allowed for unconstitutional discrimination, but these changes fix that problem,” said Caleb Dalton, legal counsel for the alliance, in a statement.
A university spokesperson told The College Fix it was “satisfied” with the outcome, since it “did not require a substantive change to any of the relevant campus policies.”
The fees it’s paying the plaintiffs are “nominal” and recognize that YAL “did receive one email that was insufficiently clear about standing practices regarding” club recognition, she said in an email: “YAL and its members will now have full access to the same benefits of campus recognition enjoyed by the 1000+ student organizations on the Berkeley campus.”
UPDATE: The administration responded to a Fix request after this post was published. Its response has been added.
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