Some students praise Wisconsin fees ruling

Michelle Kibiger

and Chris Vetter

Although the precedent does not stand in Minnesota, some University students hope a recent federal ruling that bans mandatory student service fees at the University of Wisconsin-Madison will become the law of the land.
Three law students at Madison won a victory Friday in their case fighting mandatory student services fees. The students contended that requiring students to pay fees in support of organizations with which they disagree violates students’ First Amendment rights.
U.S. District Court Judge John Shabaz agreed with the three, declaring the fees unconstitutional.
Members of Students Against Fee Excess said the case will challenge the way fees are levied at the University.
“The decision in the Wisconsin case will definitely have implications on how fees are determined in Minnesota,” said Matt Curry, a fee group member and student in the Carlson School of Management.
Curry said he was happy with the verdict.
“I like this Wisconsin thing,” Curry said. “I like it a lot.”
The ruling affects only Wisconsin, where the ruling took place. The school has the right to appeal the case to the federal Circuit Court of Appeals.
Should the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals hear the case and uphold the lower court’s ruling, the judgment would be a precedent in that circuit.
However, Minnesota is in the 8th Circuit, so it might take a ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court to legally affect the University.
Kathy Brown, an attorney in the University’s Office of General Counsel, said that although she has no way of knowing whether or not the case will have any direct implications in Minnesota, other courts may use the ruling in their analysis of similar cases.
Brown also said the ruling is a departure from current case law and may result in challenges to the fees policies at other institutions.
Even if the Wisconsin ruling became law, it might not make a great difference at the University because fees are not generally used to support political advocacy groups.
Curry said groups like the College Republicans do not receive funding from student government because they are political in nature.
Chris Boik, a fee group member who ran for the state Legislature this year, said he would like to see an end to all student services fees. He said the court’s decision was a positive step in that direction.
“The message that they’re sending is that students have a valid point,” Boik said. Students should not have to pay fees they don’t agree with, Boik added.
Nikki Kubista, a member of the student services fees committee and a College of Liberal Arts junior, said she had not expected the Wisconsin students to win.
“I was a little surprised,” Kubista said. “Every year we have the same debate on student service fees. This ruling may change the usual argument.”
Kubista said students would probably vote to cut funding for programs they don’t use, like Boynton Health Center or the various cultural centers on campus.
“If the (Wisconsin) decision is upheld, those (programs) would no longer be funded,” Kubista said. She said the effect would be to eliminate programs that are good for the University.
“I think students really benefit from the fees they pay,” Kubista said. “Those groups need the $150 in student fees. Students would be shortsighted to cut money from these programs.”
Mandatory student services fees have created controversy at the University before. In January 1995, University student Khalid Kader refused to pay the portion of the fee that supports The Association of Gay/Lesbian/Bisexual/Transgender Student Organizations and Their Friends.
The University allowed Kader not to pay the fees. Kader claimed that having to pay to support the group conflicted with his religious views.
Sam Sager, the vice president of the Associated Students of Madison, the Wisconsin student government, said he was unhappy with the court’s decision.
“I think student government here has come out against the decision,” Sager said. “We are urging the (Wisconsin) Board of Regents to appeal this decision.”
Sager said minority and cultural groups will lose funding because of the decision.
“The effect of this decision can lead to a loss of diversity on campus,” Sager said.