It goes without saying that students are entitled to their individual beliefs, religious or otherwise. But when student activities funds come from a common pool and are billed as a lump sum on each student’s tuition statement, allowing individuals to cherry-pick which activities they fund based on their religious preference is a bad idea.
Last Wednesday, Texas A&M University’s student senate passed a bill that would allow students to abstain from funding the university’s LGBT resource center on religious grounds. Their student body president vetoed the bill two days later, arguing that it would harm the student body’s reputation and disenfranchise a group of students.
In a university setting, allowing students to pick and choose what to fund based on personal beliefs is divisive and dangerous. Beyond the logistical hurdle of determining what portion of a student’s individual fee is allocated to each group, such exclusion on any grounds weakens the common bond fostered by pluralistic campus life.
The logical extension of the senate’s opinion would be a slippery slope. Should atheists, for example, be allowed to opt out of funding all student ministries? This illustrates the troubling precedent such a bill could set. Furthermore, reducing a student activities fee to a piecemeal allotment for different funds makes little sense unless it is done across the board, which would have students individually pay only for the clubs in which they participate.
Texas A&M is a public university, albeit one with a conservative tradition. Though the issue may seem like it would be more complicated if it arose at Georgetown, a campus with religious affiliation, the principle of the matter is not one of religious freedom but of student body solidarity. The Student Activities Fee contributes to community development as a whole, and paying it — or failing to pay a portion of it — should not be interpreted as any student’s approval or disapproval of the nature of a particular group.
If practitioners of one lifestyle are given the power to deprive another, funding will wither and student life will be financially strained. For a fair network of diverse opinions and vibrant campus culture, universities cannot reduce activities fees to reflections of individual religious beliefs.