Supreme Court to hear student activity fees case

\nWISCONSIN – The U.S. Supreme Court has agreed to consider\na case that could determine whether a university can charge students\nmandatory student activity fees to finance political clubs and\nother groups that express unpopular views. The decision could\ndetermine the future of student activity fee funding for student\npublications at public colleges and universities.

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit ruled last\nAugust that the University of Wisconsin at Madison could not use\nmandatory student activity fees to fund particular student groups,\nstating that the practice resulted in a violation of dissenting\nstudents’ freedom of speech rights. A group of conservative students\nclaimed they disagreed with the idealogy of the groups at issue.\n

The University of Wisconsin has asked the Supreme Court to\nreverse the decision made by the appeals court.

The Seventh Circuit held that it was unconstitutional for the\nUniversity of Wisconsin to use part of the $165.75 activity fee\ncharged each student to fund groups such as the International\nSocialist Organization and the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transsexual\nCampus Center when students object to the political and idealogical\nactivities those organizations engaged in.

The university argued that supporting a wide variety of political\nand ideological expression through student fees served its educational\npurpose, a position that courts in other parts of the country\nhave endorsed.

The Wisconsin case is only one in a growing number of lawsuits\nover schools’ use of activity fees. In February, the U.S. Court\nof Appeals for the Ninth Circuit upheld the right of the University\nof Oregon to use mandatory student fees to support the Oregon\nStudent Public Interest Research Group Education Fund, which engages\nin political activity. Students at the University of Minnesota\nare currently pursuing a similar legal claim. And in October,\n11 current and former Christian students at the Miami University\nof Ohio sued the school for barring the use of fees for religious\nactivities while funding groups such as Students for Pro-Life\nAction and the Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual Alliance.

The Wisconsin case, Southworth v. Grebe, is expected\nto be argued before the Supreme Court this fall.

To learn more about the law regarding student fees, see “Payingfor free speech.”