Any word on the oral argument in the compelled student fees
althouse at FACSTAFF.WISC.EDU
Thu Nov 11 14:36:38 PST 1999
>Nina Totenberg's report made much of the university's substantial grant to
>WPIRG; as I understand from both her story and Linda Greenhouse's piece,
>the University funded WPRIG directly, and those funds were distributed
>only because a student referendum authorized their distribution. How does
>the university defend the use of student fees to subsidize an advocacy
>group, but only if it secures a majority vote in a referendum?
>Michael R. Masinter 3305 College Avenue
>Nova Southeastern University Fort Lauderdale, Fl. 33314
>Shepard Broad Law Center (954) 262-6151
>masinter at law.acast.nova.edu Chair, ACLU of Florida Legal Panel
Here is some info on how the funding is done from the Badger Herald, one
of the campus newspapers. What follows is written by student reporter Beth
" The referendum method of funding, which WisPIRG uses, drew
concern from justices who feared referendum funding could prevent
minority viewpoints from being heard.
"The question of exactly how these referenda work was never
answered fully at the hearing.
"WisPIRG Board member Maria Pelzer said every three years the
group asks students to fund WisPIRG at a certain level.
""We do go to the student body and ask them how they feel about
our organization being funded," she said.
"Once students agree to fund the group at a certain level, WisPIRG
asks SSFC for funding.
" Pelzer said the student government agrees to be bound by the
results of the referendum for one year.
"However, she stressed that these referenda are not actually
" "In no way is it legally binding," she said. "The administration can
step in at any time."
" SSFC Chair Paul Lachelier said when WisPIRG comes before the
committee they follow the results of the referenda for at least the
first year. Between referenda SSFC can cut its funding significantly.
" "Whatever students decide is what is funded in that year," Lachelier
"However, WisPIRG Board Chair Mia Scampini said student
government always has the power to override the referendum
results, meaning the majority will not be able to stifle minority
""It is a voluntary and nonbinding referendum," she said. "They
could cut our budget at any time."
"Scampini said WisPIRG uses the referenda to see how students
feel about their work and as support for their application when they
ask SSFC for funding.
""We just think it's a way to strengthen the show of support,
especially when we go to SSFC," Scampini said.
" The justices also expressed concerns about WisPIRG's lobbying
"Groups funded through SSFC are not allowed to take part in
" At the hearing, Ullman said student fees were not used to pay for
" Scampini said student fees do pay dues to USPIRG, which does
"Through those dues, Scampini said the group does lobby.
" "[Lobbying is] one of the benefits we get through those dues,"
"Pelzer also said WisPIRG's lobbying activities are not partisan.
""A lot of people see lobbying as partisan and it's definitely not,"
Pelzer said. "When we are going to talk to representatives, we talk
to all representatives, not just representatives of one party," she
" The court also discussed whether it was appropriate for WisPIRG to
be funded as a student service.
""If that is a service, then all sorts of organizations - that have quite
partisan views and spend their time trying to persuade students -
are a service," Chief Justice William Rehnquist said at the hearing.
" Lachelier said although he may not be speaking for all members of
SSFC, he believes the committee does need to talk more about its
definition of service but has been basing most of its decisions on
numbers of UW-Madison students served.
""The organizations directly have to benefit a large number of
students on campus," Lachelier said.
"Both Pelzer and Scampini said WisPIRG provides numerous
services for students.
""In essence, all the organizations give students the opportunity to
go forth and pursue the things they want to pursue and be an
active member of the university," Pelzer said."
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