U should stand up to ill-considered fees suit

Since its inception, the mandatory student fees system has added to the quality and accessibility of student services. By requiring students to subsidize campus organizations, the University fosters open access to a diversity of views and opportunities. These benefits could disappear if paying the fees becomes an option. Nevertheless, five students filed a lawsuit against the Board of Regents last month, claiming that mandatory fees violate such constitutional rights as the freedoms of speech, religion and association. The Board of Regents will decide in the next month whether to fight the suit or settle it.
The plaintiffs — Grant Buse, Matthew Curry, Aaron Fagerness, Amber Harpel and Jessie Roos — argue that the University forces students to fund groups and programs that counter their beliefs. In particular, they oppose University Young Women, the Queer Student Cultural Center and La Raza Student Cultural Center, which they say promote abortion, homosexual lifestyles and communism, respectively. Of course, as the plaintiffs contend, students do have a right to choose what groups to fund. But the mandatory fee system allows that, and it also provides advantages that would be lost under a checkoff system.
Undergraduate students currently pay a quarterly fee of $158 to services ranging from student unions to health services to cultural centers. The fees are made mandatory only after a representative body of students and faculty deliberates in an open setting. Each year, the 14-member Student Services Fees Committee votes to determine the allocation of funds among campus organizations. The regents make the final decision. In the meantime, students can voice their concerns at public hearings as well as in letters to the committee.
The plaintiffs’ attorney, Jordan Lorence, insists that the lawsuit is a First Amendment issue, not an attack on specific groups. But to say that the Queer Student Cultural Center espouses homosexuality as a political agenda is to say that the existence of gays is a political matter. If asserting one’s identity is necessarily political, any student group that allows individuals to express themselves freely can be challenged. So every fees item would have to be voluntary, and many students would opt out of fees simply because they can. This would undermine a fees structure that disperses service costs fairly among all students. Without the mandatory fee, many services would not be available on campus.
Contrary to the plaintiffs’ claim, students can participate in the mandatory fees decision process. Their interests are taken into account by the fees committee, which allocates funds to groups whose work is found to benefit students. Clearly, the mandatory fee structure does not violate students’ First Amendment rights. It promotes them. Moreover, many student organizations would falter under a voluntary fees system. The quality of student life on campus would decline if the plaintiffs have their way. These factors must be considered by the regents when they decide whether to challenge or settle the case. For the sake of the student body, the board must opt to fight and win this lawsuit in court.