Mandatory student fee can’t be used for student activism, says court


A mandatory student fee at the University of Wisconsin can’t be used for political or ideological activism, a Wisconsin judge has ruled. The ruling came in a suit filed by the Northstar Legal Center on behalf of three students at the University of Wisconsin-Madison who object to the uses to which their mandatory student fees are put.

Jordan Lorence, general counsel for the Northstar Legal Center, explained, “The student government gets a large amount of money to distribute to various student groups, and they basically divide it up among overwhelmingly left-wing student organizations. There was no way students who object to the political or ideological activism these groups use the money for can get their money back or steer their money to a group they agree with they were stuck.”

That policy is being changed now, thanks to what Lorence calls “a very strong decision” by the judge who heard the case. The decision will be appealed, but Lorence believes a good precedent will be set.

“He ruled that the entire mandatory fee program at the University of Wisconsin at Madison was unconstitutional because it compelled students to fund political and ideological advocacy by student groups,” said Lorence. “This is advocacy the students would not have financially supported voluntarily. The judge said that the First Amendment prohibits the university from making these financial contributions a condition to obtaining an education at the University.”

The Supreme Court has already recognized this principle in regard to union dues and bar association dues. “We just applied those precedents to a student situation,” explained Lorence.

In the Wisconsin case, only a handful of student organizations received significant amounts of money from student fees, and those groups were overwhelmingly involved in liberal activism. “Over 75 percent of registered student groups on campus didn’t even see a need to apply for the funding,” noted Lorence. “Clearly this isn’t going to crush freedom of speech or diversity of opinion on campus, as has been the dire prediction.”

If the appeal is successful, the decision could have a significant impact on universities around the nation. “Many state universities around the country have similar programs,” said Lorence. “This is very widespread.”

— E.P. News

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