Conservative group settles lawsuit with University of Michigan over funding

The Young Americans for Liberty (YAL) chapter at the University of Michigan (U-M) reached a settlement with their university regarding discrimination over a proposed speaker on campus last week.

The lawsuit was filed last November in response to the university denying the student group funding to bring a prominent opponent of affirmative action to speak on campus. The application requested $1,000 to reimburse the club for hosting Jennifer Gratz, to give a talk titled “Diversity in Race v. Diversity in Ideas: The Michigan Affirmative Action Debate.”

Ten years earlier Gratz actually won a high profile lawsuit against U-M over affirmative action.

“We brought Jennifer Gratz, the lead plaintiff on that case, to come speak on campus. During the talk, we were heavily protested by a couple different groups. The one group that was protesting us was By Any Means Necessary, and it eventually got so rowdy and so loud, kind of even unsafe, that police broke it up and had Jennifer Gratz escorted out of the building,” Derek Magill, the President of the YAL chapter at U-M, told Campus Reform.

The Student Organization Funding Commission (SOFC) at U-M gives student organizations approximately $300,000 every year from compulsory student fees in order to fund these types of events. The request was denied on the basis that funding cannot be provided to pay for political events, according to the lawsuit.

However, the SOFC has previously approved funding for more politically liberal groups such as Amnesty International, Migrant and Immigrant Rights Advocacy, the NAACP, as well as a group that hosted an event in favor of affirmative action.

Magill explained that SOFC had a “very ambiguous policy” when it came to funding political groups that was riddled with hypocrisy.

“We found out that three weeks before that, [SOFC] had funded the actual group that protested us, By Any Means Necessary, to go down to the Supreme Court and protest Jennifer Gratz, who was down there to talk about affirmative action. They had justified that by saying that it was a multi-cultural event, and not a political event. We challenged them on that basis, that they were not applying the political term fairly, and that they were using it to discriminate against groups that they didn’t agree with,” Magill said.

The lawsuit stated that the “[d]efendants’ prohibition on funding political and religious activities, events, speech, or advocacy in the mandatory student fee forum unconstitutionally restricts speech based on viewpoint and is not reasonable.”

Magill stated that even when the lawsuit was pending, the university didn’t seek to make amends with the group.

“Nobody from the university ever contacted us. There were multiple times they reached out to leftists to have meetings over various complaints. There had big public meetings open to all the students to talk about issues that leftists groups brought up, but how dare a conservative group say that there needs to be more diversity of thought,” Magill said.

After a legal battle, Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF), which represented the student group, announced that they had dropped the suit because the university had agreed to revise its policies and give $14,000 in damages to the YAL group.

Former U-M YAL President Conrad Brown stated that “it was never really about money, the point is that the hypocrisy and discrimination was occurring and nobody was addressing it and we felt like it was something worth addressing.”

“I think that people kind of view it as a victory for us, not just as libertarians, but it’s a victory for anyone in any organization on any college campus potentially and it goes to show that people still care about those issues and it’s something to be discussed in the future,” Brown said.

Magill stated that the battle for free speech on campus is far from over.

“This is just one step in the right direction, it’s not the end. By no means is it the end,” he said.


Follow the author of this article on Twitter: @samantha_reinis