A financial branch of the student government denied the claim by a student organization that it violated viewpoint neutrality in its budget decision Student Judiciary hearing Monday.
Following a denial of eligibility, the Student Judiciary heard allegations from the Collegians for a Constructive Tomorrow against the Associated Students of Madison Student Services Finance Committee.
CFACT member Patrick Sullivan said contrary to SSFC’s argument, the appeal is not about the validity of SSFC’s eligibility bylaws or the committee’s discretion on those bylaws.
Sullivan said the appeal is about the discriminatory impact of SSFC’s eligibility decisions that granted some Registered Student Organizations eligibility for advocacy training stewardship, but denied eligibility to CFACT for some more, if not the same, direct services.
SSFC Chair Ellie Bruecker said this claim by CFACT is not valid. CFACT is not identical to any currently eligible General Student Services Fund group, she said.
“I find no evidence of any viewpoint neutrality or other violations in the eligibility decision for CFACT,” Bruecker said.
Sullivan said the panel and SSFC used what CFACT believes is a narrow definition of viewpoint discrimination. He cited inconsistencies in the application of the ASM bylaws being used for different RSOs and having a negative view of CFACT’s political or social perspective as examples of the student finance board’s viewpoint discrimination.
SSFC may not exclude CFACT for advocacy training, but may grant eligibility for similar RSOs, Sullivan said.
Sullivan said CFACT was denied eligibility, even though they have similar advocacy training as other student organizations such as the Wisconsin Public Interest Research Group, Student Leadership Program, Promoting Awareness, Victim Empowerment and F.H. King.
“If advocacy training is not a direct service for some RSOs, then the exclusion of an RSO that provides that direct service would be viewpoint discrimination,” he said.
Sullivan said the committee members who concluded CFACT does not provide a specific identifiable direct service violated viewpoint neutrality by deciding other RSOs do provide direct service for an identical activity. He said this violation justifies reversal of the committee’s decision.
Bruecker said the title “advocacy training” does not automatically constitute a direct service. The burden of proof is on the group to demonstrate the direct services meet the requirements, which CFACT failed to demonstrate, she added.
“Whether CFACT feels their services are identical to other eligible GSSFs is not relevant, because they did not prove to SSFC that what they thought were direct services met the direct service criteria,” Bruecker said.
Student Judiciary Chief Justice Nick Checker asked Sullivan if he looked through other groups’ eligibility applications for examples of how CFACT’s direct services are identical to that of other GSSFs in preparation for the hearing and that he was not fully convinced that they were identical.
Sullivan said he did not read through eligibility applications of other groups, so he could not provide any specific examples. However, he did bring up an example of F.H. King teaching students how to cook with organic food.
Sullivan said he does not think this was any more educational, “tailorable” or “requestable” than the example of CFACT organizing students in a post-Halloween street clean-up. Previously, Bruecker had said this act by CFACT does not demonstrate a direct service by such definitions.
Checker said the panel will make a decision on the matter within 10 school days.