ALBANY, N.Y. (AP)
- A nationwide conservative group that extols the virtues of the banned DDT pesticide and says free enterprise is the answer to many consumer and environmental issues is fighting what it calls "viewpoint discrimination" on a state campus.
The New York Collegians for a Constructive Tomorrow faces a Jan. 14 court hearing in federal court in Utica as the first public step of its lawsuit against the Student Association of the University of Albany. The conservative group's New York chapter seeks to secure a spot on a student referendum that could lead to funding through student fees similar to the New York Public Interest Research Group.
The suit is a direct challenge to what the group argues is a common practice of funding left-leaning groups despite a 2002 U.S. Supreme Court decision requiring "viewpoint neutral" program funding.
"The lawsuit filed is to seek redress of this failure and to protect University of Albany students from viewpoint discrimination," according to the announcement by New York Collegians for a Constructive Tomorrow.
The New York chapter claims the student association provides NYPIRG, a public policy advocate that supports environmental measures, with $106,000 in funding from mandatory student fees. The New York Collegians for a Constructive Tomorrow claims the student association has been denied an automatic spot on the same referendum that could lead to equal funding.
Although the group could also gain access to the ballot through petitions, that hasn't been attempted because the issue is parity with NYPRIG, said Bill Gilles, national director of CFACT, based in St. Paul, Minn.
"Our goal is really to put forth a different idea on the marketplace of ideas," Gilles said. "On college campuses, it's pretty one-sided." Environmentally, Gilles said the group favors conservation over preservation.
"The idea of preservation is that the equation of man plus environment is bad and they just want to remove `man' from the environment anyway they can," he said. "We say it's OK to interact with the environment, whether it's for economic development or tourism, but we should do so in a way that it's there tomorrow for our kids and grandkids."
The group claims chapters at campuses in Minnesota, Wisconsin, Washington, Oregon, Massachusetts, New York, New Mexico and Texas, including more than 100 members at Albany's State University of New York campus. The university has 17,000 students.
The attorney for the Student Association of the University of Albany, Lewis Oliver, said there has been no "viewpoint discrimination."
"The last time this came up for a vote, the student central council determined that the group did not present enough of an agenda of activities in order to merit being placed on the referendum," Oliver said. "And the group has not gone the petition route."
He said the student association funds many other conservative groups on campus.
The conservative voice is being heard more often on campuses nationwide, said Robert O'Neil of anti-censorship Thomas Jefferson Center for the Protection of Free Expression, based in Charlottesville, Va.
"There's been quite a bit of increased activity along those lines," O'Neil said, although he was unfamiliar with CFACT. "I think the system is so structured in most public universities that it would be difficult for any so called bias (in funding) to go on for very long."
NYPIRG, which is active on SUNY campuses statewide and in lobbying Albany, seeks greater environmental and consumer protections among its many causes that include government reform and openness. Its positions include opposition to nuclear power and support of greater fuel efficiency than SUVs provide.
"We understood that the funding was denied on the basis of the level of activity, not politics," said Joel Kelsey of NYPIRG. "Student governments may not take a group's view into consideration when reviewing requests for funding, and I think SA's been pretty clear that they have stringently followed that."
"It had everything to do with our viewpoint," said Eric Amidon, a senior political science student at Albany and leader of the New York chapter. "They said, `We don't like what you guys stand for.'"