Student fees challenged in lawsuit

Colleen Winters

Paying the Student Services Fee might become an option rather than a requirement for University students if a lawsuit filed Tuesday by five students is successful.
The lawsuit, filed by Matthew Currey, Jessie Roos, Amber Harpel, Aaron Fagerness and Grant Buse, claims the University is violating the law by forcing students to pay fees for student organizations they don’t support.
Filed against the Board of Regents, the complaint says the requirement to pay the Student Services Fee “violates the students’ rights to freedom of speech, freedom of association, free exercise of religion and property rights under the United States Constitution.”
“We don’t feel we should support groups we don’t agree with,” said Harpel, a General College sophomore.
In the lawsuit, the students specifically object to funding the University Young Women, the Queer Student Cultural Center and LaRaza Student Cultural Center.
“We emphatically say these organizations are allowed to speak their point of view, but these students do not want to subsidize those opinions,” said Jorden Lorence, general counsel for Northstar Legal Center. The center, an affiliate of the Minnesota Family Council, is representing the students.
Lorence, who graduated from the University’s Law School in 1980, represented three students at the University of Wisconsin-Madison who filed a similar lawsuit against the school’s board of regents in April 1996.
The Wisconsin students won their case in November 1996 at the federal district court level. The decision was appealed by the university and is still in the appeals process.
Currey, a plaintiff in the lawsuit and a senior in the Carlson School of Management, said hearing about the University of Wisconsin decision prompted him to file suit against the University.
University General Counsel Mark Rotenberg said the University has not been formally served with the suit, but that he had been instructed to provide the administration with a legal review of the students’ claims. The University will respond to the suit within the next few weeks, he said.
“The general view here is when the regents adopt the student fees allocations and approve it, they are doing it to enhance a free marketplace of ideas so that students and faculty can benefit from a wide perspective of ideas,” Rotenberg said.
The Student Services Fee, $158.01 per quarter for the 1997-98 school year, must be paid by all students registered for six or more credits. The money is divided among 27 campus organizations including the Campus Involvement Center, University Recreation Center, Radio K and The Minnesota Daily.
Students have a choice to reject payment to several student organizations, such as the Minnesota Public Interest Research Group. A student may check a box during registration to not pay an extra fee for these groups. The extra fees are automatically assessed to students unless they indicate otherwise during registration.
Campus organizations submit requests each January for funds. The requests are reviewed by the fees committee, but the final decision is up to the Board of Regents.
Regents Chair William Hogan said it was too early to comment on the case because the board hadn’t had a chance to discuss it.
But University officials are aware that there have been complaints about student services fees in the past at other institutions, Rotenberg said. “I can’t say that this is something completely unheard of.”