Univ. of Wisconsin student fee case watched closely by student press

WISCONSIN — A suit filed against the University of Wisconsin last fall regarding allocation of student fees could have implications for the student press.

The University of Wisconsin is appealing a November 1996 district court ruling that says forcing students to pay mandatory fees to fund campus organizations that express political views unconstitutional.

Three law students at the University of Wisconsin claimed the university was violating their First Amendment rights by imposing a mandatory student fee that funded campus organizations that expressed views they disagreed with.

Scott Southworth, Amy Schoepke and Keith Bannach filed the original suit. Two more students, undergraduate student Rebecka Vander Werf and law student Rebecka Bretz have since joined the suit as plaintiffs.

Southworth said he thought the mandatory student funding of campus organizations was unconstitutional because it compelled students to fund political groups they did not support.

“It forced students to fund advocacy of groups they didn’t agree with,” Southworth said. “By doing so, it forced association.”

Southworth said some of the organizations he did not want his funds to support include a campus women’s center and gay rights organizations.

However, the students who filed the suit said they in no way mean this argument to be applied to student publications also receiving funding from the university, which may publish unpopular opinions Southworth said.

“[Newspapers] are totally, totally different than student organizations,” he said.Susan Ullman, assistant attorney general of Wisconsin and attorney for the university, said she also hopes this case will not this will affect the student press. But she believes the court’s decision is not so narrow.

“This is a challenge to something that is very central to universities,” she said in an interview with the Chicago Tribune. “It threatens the wide range of speech and activities that are available at universities.”

The university filed an appeal in the case on Oct. 2.