Ball State recently settled with pro-life student group Students for Life. The group said the policy regarding student organization activity fees was not applied on the same basis to all student organizations. Rebecca Slezak, DN
Student organization fees policy revised after lawsuit
Settlement reached between Ball State and pro-life group
A policy change that guides student organizations are eligible to apply to receive in activity fees is one result of a recently-settled lawsuit brought against the university by a pro-life student group.
Ball State’s chapter of Students for Life, an organization whose mission is to “recruit, train, and mobilize the Pro-Life Generation [sic] to abolish abortion,” sued the university in June after it was denied $300 to be used toward educational resources for pregnant and parenting students.
The group alleged that the university’s previous student activity fee policy upheld a “system that permits viewpoint discriminatory allocation of those funds,” according to court documents, adding that the university would not fund “any organization which engages in activities, advocacy or speech in order to advance a particular political interest, religion, religious faith or ideology.”
The group believed the university violated its own guidelines and complained the old policy was not publicly accessible online. The new policy still cannot be accessed on any publicly accessible website or in the 2018-19 Student Organization Handbook. The deadline to change the policy was Sept. 7, according to court documents.
The Student Activity Fee Committee, the group responsible for deciding when an organization needs funding under these guidelines, granted money for organizational activities to groups including Feminists for Action, which promotes Planned Parenthood, and Spectrum, whose mission is to “educate the Ball State and Muncie communities on lesbian, bisexual, gay, and transgendered issues, cultures and history.”
As a result of the federal lawsuit, the university has not only agreed to pay the student group $300 plus the group’s attorney fees totaling $12,000, but it has also agreed to revise the student activity fees guidelines.
“We’re pleased that Ball State has agreed to treat pro-life student groups equally with other student groups,” Julia Weis, Students for Life president, said in an email. “We are looking forward to sharing our message of hope with pregnant and parenting students.”
The settlement states that Ball State is not “admitting liability or recognizing the validity of the plaintiff’s claims” and the plaintiffs “are neither recognizing the validity of any defense defendants may have asserted.”
“Ball State University worked collaboratively with the students to promptly and amicable resolve the matter,” Marc Ransford, senior media strategist, said in an email. “Student organizations are a vibrant part of campus life. The university looks forward to working with all student organizations as the updated policy is put into place.”
Going forward, the policy changes under the agreement include public recording of all funding committee meetings, a written reason for denying funds to any student group and the implementation of a new appeals process, all of which were not mandated prior to the lawsuit.
Caleb Dalton, an attorney with Alliance Defending Freedom, a pro-Christian rights advocacy organization that defended Students for Life, said he hopes the new policies will help promote an exchange of ideas on campus.
“It’s fundamental to public education, and really the furtherance of any university, that they uphold the free marketplace of ideas and allow students to be exposed to different viewpoints, and not discriminate against minority viewpoints,” Dalton said. “This new policy goes a long way to treating all viewpoints equally.”
Allie Kirkman contributed to this story.
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