Late last month a judge put an end to the long dispute that two students began over two years ago over Tech’s speech code and guidelines for using the Student Activity Fee to fund organizations. We are glad that the lawsuit and all of the negative publicity and distress that it brought have ended. While we believe that every single Tech student should have the right to openly voice his or her opinion, this lawsuit was the wrong channel for the plaintiffs to do so.
Before these students decided to file a lawsuit against Tech, they should have explored open discourse with administrators and other students to pursue dialogue rather than involve a long list of administrative employees as defendants on the case, cast a negative light on Tech, and burden the Institute with a hefty legal bill. This wasted time and money could have been directed to more productive pursuits to benefit Tech’s students.
Only two students were able to come together in favor of this lawsuit, suggesting that few students were being affected by their claims and that there was little support for them. Nonetheless, there was merit to parts of the lawsuit. While we do not believe the Institute was responsible of “religious indoctrination,” as the plaintiffs claimed, we agree that using Student Activity Fees to fund the Safe Space program, whose aim is to provide a supportive environment for the gay community on campus, posed some problems. The program’s materials and meetings were found to contain religious content. As mandated by law, Tech should not fund or otherwise endorse any one religion or ideology. It is important that the Institute maintain neutrality.
Therefore, one positive outcome of the lawsuit was that the Institute learned from the complaints brought forth and acted to remedy some gray areas in its policy. Tech reached a settlement in which it agreed to remove religious material from Safe Space’s website and training manual, modify the speech code, and make other changes to controversial provisions in policy, thus strengthening the Institute’s neutrality and integrity.
The danger of some tax dollars being used for the ultimate purpose of making GLBT students feel comfortable and safe in our campus environment is much lesser than that of the intolerance and anxiety that could be borne from trying too hard to appease two student’s interpretations of Tech’s actions. Supporting this opinion, the court ruling awarded the plaintiffs no damages and did not require Tech to change its Student Activity Fees guidelines.
We hope that the judge’s warning that another case could challenge the Institute’s use of Student Activity Fees in the future does not come true in the form of another case in which resources are misused and attention is misdirected.