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Saturday, May 18, 2024

Seg-fees ruling still controversial

Following several years of legal questioning from the University of Wisconsin System et al vs. Scott Southworth et al case, the Student Services Finance Committee this year faces the double challenge of deciding on large budget requests and maintaining the viewpoint neutral position for deciding those budgets mandated by the courts.  




The Southworth case, which went to the Supreme Court in March 2000, was ruled in favor of the university allowing it to continue collecting segregated fees, used for funding student organizations, provided they are distributed in a view-point neutral manner. Southworth then filed a claim against the university stating the current system of distribution is not viewpoint neutral because no mechanism exists to ensure decisions are made without the influence of the political ideologies held by those on SSFC.  




Jordan Lorence, attorney for Southworth, said currently the lower court agreed that the system was not viewpoint neutral but because the university had appealed that ruling a stay had been ordered until a higher court made a decision.  




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'The sum total of what happened last year was the system was determined to be unconstitutional and the university appealed the ruling. The old system is allowed to be maintained pending the appeal,' he said. 'Basically we are arguing whether the student government should be allowed unbridled discretion.'  




The case is currently known as the Fry case because Southworth, who is no longer a student, is not eligible to file against the university.  




Southworth said this year's actions by SSFC and the large budget proposals would have no direct bearing on the case because arguments have already been established. He said he thought if he won the case, however, a system in which students would have the option to not pay segregated fees would be established at UW-Madison.  




'This [year's budget proposals] show the egregious nature of these groups and how ridiculous this system is. If the Seventh Circuit issues a decision before next fall we could see a voluntary system established by next fall,' he said. '[These proposals] won't affect our lawsuit but it is bad from a PR perspective. Changing peoples' hearts and minds is more effective than changing the law.'  




Patricia Brady, senior UW System legal counsel, said students cannot currently get their seg fees refunded because the stay allowed the university to keep the fees mandatory.  




Rob Staude, an SSFC representative, disagreed with Southworth saying this year's SSFC board was proving it was viewpoint neutral and the Southworth ruling was making it easier for groups to get money.  




'I think people are making efforts to be neutral and we're checking each other to make sure we are focused on eligibility and how [the groups] are student services. It's something that we're more conscious of than last year,' he said. 'It becomes harder to say to the groups that you can't get money because of Southworth because it allows any student service group to get money.'  




Staude also said he felt many groups increased their budget requests this year because the groups perceived an increased use of their services from the students.  




'[The groups that requested increases] feel that they have an opportunity to improve the campus and they see that there have been shifts in the opinions of the student body, and their budgets reflect that shift. Students are seeing their services as a value to the campus climate,' he said.  




Staude said that while part of that shift could be political he felt it was mostly due to a shift in educational needs.  




'I think a shift in what the campus needs can come from many areas, but I think it is mostly educational need,' he said. 'We look at the benefit it provides students.'  




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