UW-Madison: Segregated Fees Case
   

Backgrounder

The U.S. Supreme Court today upheld the University of Wisconsin-Madison's student fee system. The following is a comprehensive Q&A backgrounder on the Board of Regents v. Southworth lawsuit that was argued Nov. 9, 1999 before the court.

Q: Who are the plaintiffs and defendants?
A: Scott Southworth, Amy Schoepke and Keith Bannach, former UW law students, are the original plaintiffs. Four other students have since joined the case as plaintiffs: Rebecca Bretz, Jamie Fletcher, Kendra Fry and Rebecka Vander Werf. The defendants are the members of the UW System Board of Regents in their official capacities as regents.

Q: Who are the attorneys arguing the case before the Supreme Court?
A: As in all university litigation, the Wisconsin Office of Attorney General represented the UW System Board of Regents in this case. Susan Ullman, state assistant attorney general, presented the oral argument before the U.S. Supreme Court. Assisting Ullman with the case was Pete Anderson, state assistant attorney general. Ullman can be reached at (608) 267-2775. The plaintiffs' attorney is Jordan Lorence of the Northstar Legal Center in Fairfax, Va.

Q: Who are the UW-Madison and UW System spokespersons?
A: Roger Howard, associate vice chancellor for student affairs, is the main UW-Madison spokesperson. He can be reached at (608) 263-5702. Good student spokespersons are Adam Klaus, chair of Associated Students of Madison, the UW-Madison student government, (608) 265-4276; or Tim Hong, chair of ASM's finance committee, (608) 283-0984. For general information, call Erik Christianson in the UW-Madison Office of News and Public Affairs at (608) 262-0930. For UW System sources (UW System President Katharine Lyall, UW System attorneys or members of the Board of Regents), call Sharyn Wisniewski at (608) 262-6448.

Q: What is the timeline of the case?
A: The case was filed April 2, 1996, with the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Wisconsin. U.S. District Judge John Shabaz ruled in favor of the plaintiffs on Nov. 29, 1996. After appeal by the Board of Regents, a three-judge panel of the 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals upheld the lower court ruling on Aug. 10, 1998. The regents appealed to the full circuit court, which upheld the ruling on Oct. 27, 1998. The regents then appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court, which heard arguments in the case on Nov. 9 ,1999. The Court today, March 22, 2000, upheld the university's student fee system. The Supreme Court case number is 98-1189.

Q: Why did the students file the case?
A: The students argue that the mandatory segregated fee system forced them to support political and ideological organizations with which they disagree, thus violating their First Amendment rights of free speech and freedom of association. The students specifically named 18 campus-related organizations to which they objected on political, ideological or religious grounds.

Q: What is the position of UW-Madison and the Board of Regents?
A: The use of student fees enables the university to create a public forum for student speech, an essential part of the education process. Since no one is forced to participate in any of the activities, there is no compelled speech issue in violation of First Amendment rights of free speech. The university's funding facilitates the speech of many groups through a system that even the plaintiffs agree distributes monies on a viewpoint-neutral basis.

Of the total student fee bill, the portion that goes to student organizations is called the "allocable fees." These are distributed by students through the UW-Madison student government (Associated Students of Madison) as stipulated by Wisconsin state law requiring "shared governance of campus activities by students." According to Wisconsin Statute 36.09 (5), "Students in consultation with the chancellor and subject to the final confirmation of the board shall have the responsibility for the disposition of those student fees which constitute substantial support for campus student activities."

Q: What exactly did the U.S. Supreme Court decide?
A: The court decided this issue: "Whether the First Amendment is offended by a policy or program under which public university students must pay mandatory fees that are used in part to support organizations that engage in political speech."

Q: Which student organizations did the plaintiffs object to funding?
A: Wisconsin Student Public Interest Research Group, or WISPIRG; Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual Campus Center; Campus Women's Center; UW Greens; Madison AIDS Support Network; International Socialist Organization; Ten Percent Society; Progressive Student Network; Amnesty International; United States Student Association; Community Action on Latin America; La Colectiva Cultural de Aztlan; Militant Student Union of the University of Wisconsin; Student Labor Action Coalition; Student Solidarity; Students of National Organization for Women; MADPAC; and Madison Treaty Rights Support Group.

Q: How many students groups are there at UW-Madison?
A: As of March 22, 2000 there were 612 registered student organizations at UW-Madison, according to the Student Organization Office in the Dean of Students Office. There are many other student organizations functioning on campus that are not registered.

Q: What exactly is a segregated fee?
A: In addition to tuition, all UW-Madison students are required to pay what are called segregated fees each semester. Students must pay the fee or they cannot obtain their grades or graduate.

The fees are broken down in two categories: non-allocable and allocable. Non-allocable fees (about 85 percent of the $16.3 million in total segregated fees for 1999-2000) cover fixed, on-going costs of students services - such as University Health Services, the Wisconsin Union and Recreational Sports - and are not distributed by student government.

The allocable portion of the segregated fees (about 15 percent of the total in 1999-2000) are distributed to the General Student Service Fund, which is overseen by the Student Services Finance Committee; the Associated Students of Madison, the UW-Madison student government; WISPirg; Child Care Tuition Assistance Program; and the Madison Metro student bus pass. The GSSF distributes funds to organizations that must apply to it. ASM distributes funds for student organization events, operations and travel. The funds distributed by the GSSF and ASM are the ones to which the plaintiffs are primarily objecting.

Q: How much are segregated fees?
A: For the 1999-2000 academic year, the segregated fee is $445 per student. In the 1995-96 academic year, the segregated fee was $331.50.

Q: How much funding from segregated fees did the General Student Service Fund and the Associated Students of Madison distribute in 1995-96, the year the lawsuit was filed?
A: The GSSF distributed $974,200 to campus and community groups, while ASM distributed $109,277 to student organizations.

Q: How much funding do student organizations receive from segregated fees per student?
A: In 1995-96, about $13 from each student's segregated fee bill went to fund student organizations. On average, groups receive about 10 cents to 30 cents from each student.

Q: Of the total allocable fees, how much went to ASM, GSSF, WISPirg, Child Care Tuition Assistance Program, and the student bus pass?
A: Broken down by 1995-96, the academic year in which the lawsuit was filed; and 1999-2000, the current academic year, here are the figures:
  1999-2000 1995-96
General Student Service Fund (GSSF) $19.24 $26.84 (includes one-time funding for radio station capitol).
Associated Students of Madison (ASM) $14.36 $8.56
Child Care Tuition Assistance Program (CCTAP) $16.56 $9.52
Wisconsin Student Public Interest Research Group (WISPIRG) $2.02 $1.42
Bus Pass $34.50 $0
Total Allocable $86.68 $46.34
(Per semester) $43.34 $23.17

 

 
 

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