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General Student Services Fund Viewpoint Neutrality
Last updated 12/16/2020
The most fundamental rule in SSFC decision-making is that it must be viewpoint neutral, as mandated by the United States Supreme Court.
In simple terms, it is not the role of the committee to challenge or affirm a group’s overall philosophy, but to provide a space where groups with widely divergent outlooks can interact and contribute to campus life.
This means that SSFC must evaluate factors that are separate from a group’s mission – e.g. level of service, fiscal responsibility, accessibility, and so on.
SSFC does not and cannot set funding priorities based on whether representatives like or dislike what a group does. But they can evaluate the structure, methods, efficiency, or capacity of a group. Any viewpoint neutral criteria is an acceptable basis for decisions, as long as those criteria are applied consistently and transparently to all applicants.
This can lead to a ‘disconnect’ between GSSF leadership and SSFC representatives. Group leaders tend to be mission-oriented – their affiliation with the group tends to be rooted in values, not methods. SSFC representatives have no choice but to focus on how a group contributes to campus life, not what a group contributes. Whereas a GSSF leader’s first instinct may be to talk about why their programming matters, SSFC representatives will focus on how well the programming works, what the alternatives are for delivery, and whether the group has the capacity to execute its plans. SSFC can analyze costs and benefits, but must tread carefully when doing so and be consistent with all applicants.
Ultimately, GSSF leaders should approach SSFC hearings with the following expectations.
- During an eligibility hearing, they will have to convince the committee that their organization meets a pre-established set of criteria.
- During a budget hearing, they will have to convince the committee that their proposals are feasible, strategic, and efficient.
By now it should be clear that viewpoint neutrality is about process, not outcome.
GSSF groups may receive substantially different levels of funding within a VPN framework.
Moreover, in the rare event that two groups have an adversarial relationship (i.e., their viewpoints are in direct conflict), SSFC is under no obligation to give them equal funding.