Last year, David Shepherd, a student at Lone Star College-CyFair in Cypress, set out to start a local chapter of Young Conservatives of Texas, a statewide non-partisan conservative youth organization, only to be blocked from doing so by his college’s administration. Shepherd and YCT are now suing the administrators in federal court claiming they unfairly discriminated against the organization due to their conservative viewpoints.
Lone Star College, like many other campuses across Texas, requires student organizations to be recognized and registered in order to schedule events on campus, use school facilities, and receive funding for their activities from the compulsory “student activity fees” collected from all students and redistributed to organizations as college administrators see fit.
In order to be recognized by the college, student organizations at LSC-CF must find a faculty advisor, a difficult task for two reasons, as spelled out in the lawsuit:
- Approximately 75% of faculty at LSC-CF are part-time, and thus not eligible to serve as advisors. University rules require advisors to be full-time employees.
- Many otherwise-eligible faculty did not wish to sponsor the organization, either because they did not agree with the conservative positions promoted by the organization or did not want to deal with “potential consequences to their standing at the college if they were to become associated with YCT’s political views.”
Because of this burden, YCT was unable to find a faculty sponsor for their organization, despite contacting more than 15 faculty members and other full-time employees. After he was asked to appoint an advisor for the group, Bennie Lambert, the “Vice-President for Student Success,” took on a temporary role as advisor for YCT.
However Lambert would use that position to attempt to stifle YCT’s speech.
According to the lawsuit, YCT held an event in November on campus titled “Is it Moral to Have an Abortion?” The event, which was held without incident, was a debate between a Christian apologist and a representative from the National Abortion Rights Action League debating the ethics of abortion.
But when the YCT chapter posted a video of the debate on their Facebook page, Lambert objected, withdrew as the advisor, and revoked the organization’s recognized status, preventing them from further engaging on campus.
The Alliance Defending Freedom, a non-profit legal organization that advocates for religious liberty, is representing YCT in the suit against LSC. ADF attorneys allege that school policies give administrators “unrestricted authority to recognize and derecognize student organizations based on whether those officials approve of the viewpoints of the groups.”
Additionally the suit takes aim at the student activity fee policy that distributes money to groups preferred by the college.
AF Senior Counsel Tyson Langhofer, director of the ADF Center for Academic Freedom, commented on the suit:
Public colleges and universities are supposed to be the marketplace of ideas, but that marketplace can’t function if only administrator-approved ideas are allowed. The courts have repeatedly found policies like the ones at Lone Star unconstitutional. College policies can’t give limitless discretion to officials to decide which student clubs will be recognized and which ones will receive funding.
The lawsuit comes at a time when campus free speech policies are being put under a spotlight. Last week, the Texas Senate Committee on State Affairs met to consider reforms to protect and preserve free speech at Texas’ public universities, an interim charge given by Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick. Several of the senators, including State Sen. Bryan Hughes (R–Mineola), expressed concerns regarding mandatory faculty advisor policies and how those policies may be used to control student speech.
The committee will propose legislation that may be taken up during the 2019 legislative session.