Supreme Court to review fees decision

Liz Bogut

The U.S. Supreme Court will review today a federal appeals court decision that found mandatory student fee systems at public universities unconstitutional.
In August 1998, the 7th U.S Circuit Court of Appeals ruled the University of Wisconsin’s mandatory fee system violated students’ First Amendment rights.
The Wisconsin students opposed to the fees claim they should not be forced to fund groups that engage in ideological and political activities that differ from their beliefs.
Five University students filed a similar suit in February 1998, calling for an option that would allow exemption from the fees allocated to student groups they don’t support.
A final decision, expected by the Supreme Court in June 2000, could affect the way the University and other institutions across the country support campus groups.
“This is a very important case which will set the legal standards for the decision in the University case,” said Mark Rotenberg, the University’s general counsel.
Rotenberg said the Board of Regents agrees with Wisconsin officials who argue student fees help broaden speech on campus.
The board believes the “University has a right to collect student fees and distribute those fees in a manner that will enhance the marketplace for a free expression of ideas,” Rotenberg said.
He said the loss of mandatory student fees could have a far-reaching, adverse impact on many student groups that rely on the fees.
Opponents of the student services fees disagree, claiming the system overlooks individual rights.
“Although state universities may have a broad educational mission, it is still limited by the First Amendment,” said Jordan Lorence, the attorney representing students in both the Wisconsin and Minnesota cases. “They must respect the right of students to not be required to fund groups they oppose.”
According to the National Association for Campus Activities statistics, about 70 percent of public colleges receive support through mandatory student service fees.
University students registered for at least six credits are required to pay a $240.35-per-semester service fee in addition to tuition. The fee is distributed among 28 different groups on campus.
The five University students filing suit are targeting the University YW, Queer Student Cultural Center and La Raza Student Cultural Center.
Matthew Brauer, co-chair of Queer Student Cultural Center, said students might be opposed to the process simply because it supports diversity and provides a marketplace of ideas.
“I’m concerned that certain elements of the student body are hostile toward diversity across the board. I think there is a lot of implicit racism and homophobia in their arguments,” Brauer said.
The lawyer representing the University student groups could not be reached for comment Monday.

Liz Bogut covers courts and welcomes comments at [email protected] She can also be reached at (612) 627-4070 x3225.