How to win in the hospital, the Martinez family on the march, radicals on the dole, and other matters. THE PRICE OF STUDENT ACTIVITY

(FORTUNE Magazine) – Some years back, when our son was a student at Oberlin College in Ohio, he had a curious annual ritual. At a certain time of day, on a certain day in the year, he would march up to a desk in the student union and ask for the return of the $5 mandatory student fee used to support the Ohio Public Interest Research Group, a nest of Naderites given to vituperating about nuclear power. Evidently feeling pressure to give refunds to students who requested them, OPIRG agreed to make them available -- for three hours one day a year. You had to be highly principled, or cheap, to collect. This memory came back the other day when we stumbled upon the California State Supreme Court case about student activity fees. After an unbelievable 13-year divagation in the state's lower courts, the case -- Averell Smith et al. v. the Regents of the University of California -- has had a happy outcome. On free-speech grounds, the judges have held that students no longer need pay to support campus ideologues. Most First Amendment cases involve somebody's right to say something. But in recent years, and in several different contexts, American courts have been addressing a different free-speech problem: the one in which somebody is being forced to subsidize dissemination of ideas he disagrees with. This ''compelled-speech'' problem occurs when, for example, unions spend compulsory dues to support political candidates -- a violation of the First Amendment, according to recent U.S. Supreme Court decisions. Also recently outlawed by the Supremes is the practice of state bar associations (which lawyers typically are required to join) using dues to lobby for, say, gun control. The compelled-speech problem on the campuses almost always involves conservative students trying to resist the mighty left-liberal tide. At the University of California at Berkeley, locus of the Averell Smith case, all students must join the Associated Students of the University of California (ASUC), which has several hundred employees and collects about $600,000 a year in mandated student fees. In addition to its own far-ranging activities, which have included lobbying in Sacramento, the ASUC doles out funds to numerous politicized student organizations. Its charter prohibits it from giving money to any campus group engaged in ''partisan politics'' -- a standard that has always ruled out the Young Democrats and Young Republicans. Amazingly, however, it did not rule out payments to the local chapter of the Young Spartacus League. Back when the suit was first generating controversy, the Sparts were supporting the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan and condemning the rise of the Solidarity movement in Poland; at Berkeley they were nevertheless considered ''nonpartisan.'' Wonderful, eh? The Smith ruling appears to put a stop to this doublethink. The judges have ordered the university to look closely at the 150-odd student organizations, decide which of them are brandishing ideologies, and provide for refunds of the share of dues attributable to such groups; alternatively, the university can make all dues voluntary. Refunds would presumably be available more than three hours per year.