CSU, ASI to integrate policy changes following lawsuit

Antonio Pequeño, Editor-in-Chief

Associated Students Incorporated (ASI) and the California State University system will undergo changes to funding regulations and neutrality policies following the conclusion of a 2017 viewpoint discrimination lawsuit from CSUSM pro-life student organization, Students for Life (SFL).

In spring 2017, SFL’s former president, Nathan Apodaca, sued ASI, CSU Chancellor Timothy P. White and former CSUSM president, Karen Haynes, after his organization was denied $500 in funding that would have allowed it to host Mike Adams, an anti-abortion speaker.

Apodaca and SFL were represented by Christian non-profit organization, Alliance Defending Freedom, who claimed that ASI unfairly denied funding to SFL.

Apodaca said, “I was told that the policy was that funding was not available for any speakers. I found this odd because I knew that student fees were actually going to fund speakers through a system where ASI and the Centers had discretion to fund or deny speaker requests.”

“When I asked for funding through those systems (that were used to fund pro-choice speakers) Students for Life’s request was denied as well. It’s discriminatory to withhold group funding that students have already paid into simply because a group holds religious or conservative beliefs,” said Apodaca.

The court concluded that ASI did not purposefully take part in any form of discrimination.

A memorandum from ASI president Kenneth Tran said, “The funding request made by Students for Life was denied not only because it requested speaker fees (which are not available to any student organization), but also because it did not follow the correct procedure for making that request.”

Although, the court found ambiguity within ASI Leadership Fund policies, thus, ASI has made changes to its rules and regulations in an effort to incorporate viewpoint neutral funding.

The matter of viewpoint neutrality will extend to the CSU’s 23 campuses via a policy directive from the Chancellor’s Office.

According to the settlement agreement, the directive will explain that, “the allocation of any applicable student association funds for student speech events (i) must be based on procedures and criteria that are viewpoint neutral, and (ii) may not be based on the approval or disapproval of an organization’s or association’s viewpoint.”

Alliance Defending Freedom also challenged the allocation of student fees put toward the Gender Equity Center and the LGTBQA Pride Center. According to Apodaca’s attorney, Caleb Dalton, “there are line items (in ASI’s previous annual budgets) for the GEC and Pride Centers of $147k to $176k per center depending on the year for the last several years.”

Historically, the two centers have been funded by ASI, but as of this year, they will be funded by CSUSM’s Student Life department. It is unclear whether this change is a direct consequence of the lawsuit.

In addition to policy changes, the settlement agreement calls for three differing amounts to be paid to Alliance Defending Freedom, SFL and Apodaca respectively. Apodaca will be paid $300 by ASI as a refund for his Student Association fees. The CSU system will pay $240,000 to Alliance Defending Freedom for attorneys’ fees. The CSU system has also agreed to pay $3,000 to SFL to compensate for damages.

The legal agreement states that the settlement, “is not an admission of liability, but is in compromise of disputed allegations and is entered into solely to avoid litigation and expense.”

“This is a win for everyone. Universities cannot discriminate against groups for their political or religious beliefs. That’s true no matter which side of the aisle you’re on,” said Apodaca. “For far too long, students and administrators have been told, either explicitly or implicitly, that the only ideas worth hearing are the ones the university has pre approved. This is simply false, and now thousands of students can have the equal ability to engage in advocacy on the issues they care deeply about.”