Az Gov. Hobbs signs bill to allow university students to opt out of funding campus clubs

Last week, Gov. Katie Hobbs signed a
bill allowing students at Arizona’s state universities to opt out of
having their student activity fees support campus groups they don’t
like. 

The new law will require all three of
the state’s public universities to give every student the opportunity
to choose which clubs or organizations they don’t want their fees to
support.

If students don’t select any specific
clubs to withhold their funding from, the university is free to
allocate the funds to any program open to all students on campus.

Rep. Alexander Kolodin, a Scottsdale Republican, said that he introduced House Bill 2178
to give Jewish students the option to not have their student activity
fees go towards pro-Palestinan groups on campus. Kolodin, who is Jewish,
said those groups use their platform on campus to call for “the
annihilation of (Jewish) people” 

“Our bill is an attempt to balance
the first amendment rights of the students who participate in clubs like
Students for Justice in Palestine with the rights of (Jewish) students …
not to be compelled to help them speak,” Kolodin told the House
Education Committee in January when it considered the measure.

Rowan Imran is a Palestinian-American
activist that works closely with pro-Palestine groups on the campuses
of Arizona’s three public universities. She said that she believes the
new law could have adverse effects on any group that represents
marginalized communities or causes. 

“While the bill was introduced to
prevent Jewish students from funding an organization mistakenly accused
of calling for the annihilation of Jews, it also risks silencing
legitimate advocacy,” she said. “If antisemitic sentiments are as
prevalent as some claim, Jewish-led groups could also be impacted. This
could inadvertently turn the bill against the very communities it aims
to protect.” 

In committee, Rep. Laura Terech,
D-Phoenix, asked Kolodin about possible administrative concerns and the
process of actually deciding what money belongs to a student that chose
to opt out of supporting a certain club. 

Kolodin said he believes the process
would be a simple math problem that only pertains to the initial
distribution of funds from the university to specific organizations. 

“This is only about the direct
disbursement of funds — this is about when the university takes money
and puts it into a club’s bank account,” he said. 

Each university requires clubs to
apply for funds, but otherwise handles their student fees and club
funding uniquely. In most cases, fees collected from students go toward
multiple things, rather than straight into the pockets of clubs and
organizations.

Every semester, ASU students pay a $35 fee
that goes to fund campus organizations, as well as campus event
programming, club sports and more, including a child care subsidy that
helps students pay for child care made necessary by their class and work
schedules. Northern Arizona University students pay a $23 fee each semester that funds student clubs, study abroad scholarships, student government, campus events and more. 

At the University of Arizona, representatives that make up the universities’ student government — The Associated Students of the University of Arizona (ASUA) — are responsible for allocating their share of university funds to various recognized clubs and organizations. 

ASUA Executive Vice President Eddie
Barron oversees the club funding process. Barron told the Arizona Mirror
that he doesn’t believe HB2178 will have much of an impact on club
funding at UofA, as ASUA’s funds come from the university bookstore,
rather than fees collected from students. 

However, as is the case with most
American universities, many clubs on these campuses are left to fend for
themselves in terms of funding, with many utilizing fundraisers or
crowdfunding efforts to get the rest of the money they may need. 

Kolodin emphasized that the bill will
not bar groups from receiving university funding entirely, but will
give students agency to decide groups they want to support. 

However, Imran said she worries that
student groups already struggling to fund their own efforts will crumble
with less access to university funds. 

“It’s a troubling precedent,
suggesting that free speech might become a privilege for those who can
afford it, rather than a guaranteed right for all students on campus,”
she said.