Shippensburg Issues Statement on Speech Code Lawsuit, Blames Student Government for Constitutional Violations
May 15, 2008
Shippensburg has released a statement in response to the federal lawsuit the Alliance Defense Fund (ADF) filed against the school. In the lawsuit, ADF charged that Shippensburg unconstitutionally reinstated its speech codes in violation of a previous settlement, and denied recognition to a student organization based on its viewpoint.
In its statement, Shippensburg concedes that reinstating the speech codes violated the settlement, and pledges to work harder to make sure the speech codes are not in place in the future. The school claims to have a commitment to free speech and upholding its students' constitutional rights.
Unfortunately, alongside its pledge to respect its students' rights in the future, Shippensburg tries to evade responsibility for its past acts. Shippensburg argues that the student government, not the university, reinstated the speech codes and denied recognition to the Christian organization, and therefore the university did not violate anybody's rights.
FIRE has seen this argument many times before, and it is wrong. When a university delegates powers to a student government—in this case, the distribution of university goods like access to campus and student fees, and the publication of the school's policies—the school does not lose its legal responsibility. A public institution has a non-delegable obligation to uphold its students' constitutional rights. Shippensburg, not the student government, is the one that owns the campus, enacts and enforces the student policies, and mandates the collection of student fees. It retains both ultimate control and legal responsibility.
Shippensburg obliquely acknowledges this responsibility when it finishes its statement with a promise to exercise greater oversight in the future. Hopefully, their vowed commitment to upholding their students' constitutional rights is sincere this time.