Refunding Special Fees: The Individual’s Right to Pull the Plug on Student Groups

Should we be forced to provide life support for Stanford's student groups?
Yesterday, Otis Reid [argued]( "Abusing the Refund: The Problem Facing Special Fees") on this blog that the significant increase in Special Fees refunds this year is a problem caused in part by “the [Stanford Conservative Society](’s irresponsible flyering campaign.”  He said,

“The purpose of the Special Fees refund process is, in my view, to allow students to punish groups with which they disagree.”

I fundamentally disagree with this.  The purpose of the Special Fees refund process is to allow students to maintain control of whether and on what *they *spend their money.  That individual control is a fundamental principle on which this nation was founded and with which we are able to maintain our liberty.  It is not that students “punish groups with which they disagree” through the refund process.  Rather, students *choose *to gift money to those groups they wish to support.

However, the core problem with the Special Fees process is that it is reversed in such a way that it makes students’ liberty highly susceptible to violation.  The process rips from students’ accounts (or accounts of parents who gift money to their children) the “fees” to which the student groups are not automatically entitled.  The students must find out about this secret way to reclaim what they never gifted in the first place. And they must remember to do it before a deadline.

Therefore, what the Stanford Conservative Society did in publicizing the refund process was not irresponsible. It provided information that many students did not have before.  It provided the information that allowed them to make informed decisions about whether they wanted to reclaim their taken money.  No one made them type in a refund URL, select specific organizations from which they could reclaim their ill-taken goods, or decide how much they would reclaim.  The Conservative Society merely ensured that students knew they had more financial options than just the one.

And the students who chose to reclaim all of their money did not “abuse the refund” as Otis stated. One can abuse a privilege, but one cannot abuse an inalienable right.

Honestly, a better protection of individual rights would be to just have students select whether they would like to donate money to a group, any group, before any money is ever taken from them.  Let’s see which organizations could manage to convince students that they were worthy enough of existing here on campus. This would force more accountability from student groups and if some groups were to fall by the wayside, then so be it.

And finally, Otis stated,

“The existence of special fees groups is a public good on the Stanford campus and it is unacceptable to let a small number of  freeriders jeopardize their existence.”

Now let’s be real, these organizations are not all public goods. They could be gone today and most wouldn’t really miss them. They may provide services that directly benefits**this campus, but they may not.  And they can reject service to someone who does not wish to donate to them.  That’s completely fine.

So why shouldn’t one “jeopardize their existence” if that is the choice one chooses to make.  If the individual would rather spend that money on something other than groups, any or all groups, that receive Special Fees, then that is his prerogative and no one else’s.  If the groups are irresponsible, act against and individual’s personal views, are ineffective, or don’t benefit me or Stanford, why should that individual be forced to keep the groups on life support.  I say that I have no problem just pulling the plug.

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