On Nov. 10, the University of North Carolina at Wilmington derecognized the student group the College Republicans. The university took the extreme measure — which involves freezing its funds and disallowing its use of campus facilities — because the CRs refused to add to its constitution the nondiscrimination clause the university requires. The university has also turned down a conservative student group’s application for registration for the same reason.
At issue are two nondiscrimination clauses that the Student Organization Committee requires to be in student groups’ constitutions. One is the nondiscriminatory membership clause, which is required to state: “This organization does not discriminate against any student, faculty, or staff based on race, color, national origin, religion, sex, age, handicap, or sexual orientation.”
The other clause would state: “This organization would adhere to all University rules, regulations, and policies, as well as to all local, state, and federal laws.”
Michael Pomarico, president of the CRs and also founder of the conservative group, Students for a Stronger UNCW, said the nondiscriminatory membership clause is “unconstitutional and should not be forced to go in” groups’ constitutions. The second clause appears OK, Pomarico said, until one examines it closely.
For example, he said, “I have no problem following local, state, and federal laws,” but this clause “is a backdoor attempt to eliminate ‘discrimination’ based on political affiliation,” which is also forbidden by university policy. Pomarico said he realized “that I as College Republican president could not tell a Democrat they are not allowed to join our group.” Nothing could stop Democrats from taking over the College Republicans if, for example, they decided as a group to “join” the CRs and vote in Democrat changes.
UNCW’s Assistant to Student Organizations in the Campus Activities and Involvement Center Faydra Stratton tried to persuade the CRs to adopt the university’s perspective on the issue. In a letter written before the vote to derecognize the CRs was held, Stratton told the CRs: “We’re not asking that you keep everyone who wants to be a member of your group but we are asking that initially you give them a chance by not discriminating” (emphasis added).
Pomarico’s concern was echoed by UNCW Criminal Justice Prof. Mike Adams, the group’s faculty advisor. As Adams wrote in his Nov. 19 Townhall.com column, “By making groups adhere to ‘all University rules, regulations, and policies,’ factors such as ‘political affiliation’ enter into the mix. Because the graduate catalogue includes political affiliation and because the CRs have members who attend graduate school, they realized that the second clause posed a serious threat to the well-being of their group” — that being opening up their group to other political parties.
Because of the First Amendment protections, Adams said at the Pope Center for Higher Education Policy’s recent conference in Raleigh, the issue is “not complex, legally speaking.” But “administrators have concluded that their handbooks trump the United States Constitution.”
Other UNCW professors saw the issue quite differently. Wendy Brenner, a faculty member who serves on the Student Organization Committee, wrote to both The Seahawk (UNCW’s student newspaper) of Dec. 4 and the Wilmington Star-News of Dec. 2 that the CRs are merely “fighting for the right to discriminate.”
UNCW English Professor Richard Veit explored this line of reasoning much further. In a letter to the editor of the Star-News Dec. 13, he charged that the “Young Republicans” (meaning the CRs) are “fighting for the right to keep out black people and Jews,” to avoid being “forced to associate with Catholics or Arab Americans,” to “make fun of gays,” and to avoid “being around blind people or students in wheelchairs.” He concluded that the “Young Republicans” are fighting “to return us to the days when segregation was a proud tradition.”
CR president Pomarico is Catholic.
Veit is on the UNCW Faculty Senate and also is a former chair of the UNC Faculty Assembly, the elected body of representatives of the faculty of the 16 UNC campuses.
The constitution proposed by the SSUNCW said the group would be “steadfastly committed to defending causes of academic and intellectual honesty, patriotism of country, free speech for all students, fair and balanced classrooms and forums, and the ideals that we deem attributable to a fair and properly functioning campus community.” In rejecting the SSUNCW, members of the SOC wrote such comments as “I wonder about an agenda that proves to be divisive,” “What’s this? Is it a witch-hunt against ‘non-patriotism’ (e.g., speaking out against the government)?” and “this isn’t for a student organization to determine. This should be omitted. Academic freedom is already guaranteed.”
Regarding the decision to review the CR’s constitution, both Stratton and Brenner suggested the review was part of a systematic review of all student organizations’ constitutions. The CRs said all along that they were singled out, and according to Adams, one of the five students on the committee told him that the CRs were right, the committee did single them out for review. Furthermore, the student was the only Republican on the committee, and he was never told of the meeting in which the CRs’ official status was revoked.