The lawsuit opposing student services fees, currently before the U.S. District Court of Minnesota, has no merit. At best, it is suing the wrong entity. At worst, it calls into question the very idea of taxation.
The students who filed the lawsuit do not appear to recognize that no one is forced to go to the University. Students can choose to attend colleges that do not support ideas they oppose. Tax-paying citizens do not have a similar choice.
Many federal programs are objectionable to individual U.S. citizens, e.g., the military or affirmative action. However, by virtue of our citizenship, we are forced to give a portion of our money to programs of which we may not approve.
If the court rules that student services fees are illegal, what does that mean for local, state and federal taxes? If a citizen is against funding a police department she thinks is racist, can she subtract the relevant amount from the taxes she pays each year? If someone is opposed to the existence of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms, is he allowed to sue the federal government for the amount his taxes contributed to the ATF?
In addition, the plaintiffs allege student fees are used to fund groups that endorse political viewpoints with which they do not agree. Therefore, being forced to pay the fees violates their First Amendment rights, the lawsuit claims. While there is some evidence that a few organizations may not always offer the most balanced information, there is no reason to halt funding completely. Instead, the University should monitor student groups to ensure that they are not engaging in one-sided political activism. Should groups be found in violation, they could be placed on probation before funding is terminated.
Another problem with the lawsuit is that it makes a political stand itself. A ruling in favor of the plaintiffs would effectively make any organization that acknowledges the existence of homosexuals a “political” organization, and therefore ineligible for student funding. The lawsuit focuses not on alleged political speech by the Queer Student Cultural Center, but simply on its existence as a fees-receiving group. Even if members simply sat around discussing the weather, according to the lawsuit, it would still be a political organization and should not be funded by student services fees. In effect, a decision for the plaintiffs is also a political endorsement.
Some organizations do support controversial viewpoints. However, such support should not be regarded as inherently evil. One of the primary tasks of any university is fostering open and honest debate. Cutting student funding is likely to eliminate many groups that give voice to arguments and ideas that, despite deserving to be heard, would be silenced without the fees. Unless one is very unsure of one’s own beliefs, arguments against them should be welcomed, not discouraged.
The problem with the lawsuit is that its focus is flawed. Rather than taking issue with organizations who are using student funds to endorse political issues, the lawsuit throws the baby out with the bath water and harms all student organizations. If student services fees are found illegal, it would set a dangerous precedent for citizens to question any program they find objectionable.