Groups claim fees committee unfair

Some self-described conservative student groups say the fees process is shortchanging them.

JP Leider

During Student Services Fees public hearings last week, conservative students called themselves a “targeted minority” and accused the fees committee of viewpoint discrimination.

Under the Student Services Fees Committee’s initial recommendations, two self-described conservative groups would receive no funding, with the other two conservative groups receiving significantly less funding than requested.

The full committee will meet again Sunday for final deliberations and will issue final funding recommendations.

The initial recommendations and rationales behind them have left many members of conservative fees-requesting groups in outspoken opposition.

Several such members have claimed that viewpoint discrimination against groups with conservative ideologies exists in the fees process.

Henry Hewes, Student Services Fees Committee chairman, said the committee is neutral, and just because a group is conservative doesn’t mean it is entitled to funding. It has to meet the committee’s criteria just as other student group must, he said.

He said liberal groups are not receiving more funding than conservative groups.

“Conservative groups have shifted the perspective by basically saying every group that’s not labeled a conservative group is labeled a liberal group,” he said. “They’re dumping funding for things like the community child care centers or La Raza into what they call ‘liberal groups.’ “

There isn’t as much funding disparity as people would think, Hewes said.

The Women’s Student Activist Collective and the Queer Student Cultural Center are the only actual liberal student organizations, he said, with The Wake’s affiliation being debatable.

Conservative students involved in the fees process have said Minnesota public Interest Research Group as well as the editorial pages from The Wake and the Daily are more left-leaning.

The Daily’s funding is decided under the Administrative Units Committee, which is separate from the Student Services Fees Committee.

Accusations of bias

Mike Franklin, University alumnus and former student member of the fees committee, is the regional director for Collegians for a Constructive Tomorrow, a conservative group focusing on consumer and environmental issues.

He said he was pleased with how Collegians for a Constructive Tomorrow’s presentation went, but was disappointed with the committee’s recommendation.

Under the committee’s initial recommendations, the group would lose its ability to request an optional fee from students during the registration process.

During the initial full committee deliberations, members questioned wages paid to Franklin and the national director of Collegians for a Constructive Tomorrow. The two positions received $41,000 of $46,000 allocated to the group’s salaries, wages and stipends.

Franklin said that based on the initial recommendations, the committee seems to be biased against conservative groups and is holding them to different standards..

“When I look at the initial subcommittee recommendations and the initial full committee recommendations, I don’t believe it was coincidence that only conservative groups were defunded,” he said, “and I don’t believe it was a coincidence that those (conservative groups) that made it through were adjusted downward at the full committee level.”

He said that even though the committee took some issue with MPIRG, they “assumed the best for MPIRG and the worst for CFACT.”

Aaron Solem, president of Collegians for a Constructive Tomorrow, said the group should be treated the same as MPIRG, which he identified as Collegians for a Constructive Tomorrow’s ideological opposite.

“Really, I don’t care about how much liberal groups are funded (when compared) to conservative groups,” he said.

Collegians for a Constructive Tomorrow simply should have the chance to gain comparable funding, he said.

Solem, who is also president of Students for a Conservative Voice, said that group requested “only as much funding as necessary” – $30,000 – which he noted was less than The Wake’s first-year funding of $60,000.

Under the recommendations, Students for a Conservative Voice would receive $17,800, the Daily would receive $525,000 and The Wake would get $100,000 next year in Student Services Fees.

While Solem, Franklin and others have stated or otherwise implied that the fees process is discriminatory, Tom Meyer, chairman of the Campus Conservative Cultural Program, disagreed.

There was a lack of neutrality in past years, he said, but this year it seems neutral.

The Campus Conservative Cultural Program came under fire from the committee early in the process for repeatedly referring to itself as the Campus Republicans in its fees request.

That error was caused by a quickly compiled request that occurred because of confusion about the fees deadline, Meyer said.

Meyer said the Campus Conservative Cultural Program changed its name and mission from the Campus Republicans last year, as it disagrees with the Republican Party in many areas.

The fees process prohibits student fees from going to organizations supporting political parties.

Meyer said the Campus Conservative Cultural Program was “extremely pleased” with the committee’s initial recommendations.

A response to the past

Students for Family Values, another fees-requesting conservative group, would receive no funding under the committee’s initial recommendations.

Last year’s committee also recommended that Students for Family Values receive no funding, but Jerry Rinehart, vice provost for Student Affairs, overturned the recommendation.

This year the group turned in what it described as a “skeletal request” that offended some committee members.

Students for Family Values President Alexander Newman said the request was written in frustration and to point out the “unfair” nature of the system.

“Every year we have played by the rules, but we’ve still gotten screwed,” he said. “This year was a response to that.”

Changes to the process this year haven’t fixed it, he said.

Newman said Students for Family Values is seeking legal advice.

Rinehart said he has no comment on the claims of discrimination because he has not been given the final recommendations, which are due Monday.

Students may file a written appeal of the recommendations to Rinehart until Wednesday.

While some students have said the fees process violates court definitions of neutrality, Rinehart disagreed.

“I don’t think there has been any substantiated allegation that the committee has not been viewpoint neutral,” he said. “I know there’s been a threat about a lawsuit regarding this, but I really haven’t seen anything at this point that makes me think our process is not consistent with (court decisions).”