Ruling could affect seg fee distribution

A federal judge ruled that the way University of Wisconsin System distributes student fees to fund campus organizations is unconstitutional because it has no guarantee that the funding decisions are viewpoint neutral.

Eight months ago the U.S. Supreme Court approved of the mandatory fees – known as student segregated fees at UW-Eau Claire – but sent the case back to the lower court to examine the distribution method.

Kelly Witkowski, a member of the UW-Eau Claire United Council delegation, said that it’s not clear how the ruling will affect UW-Eau Claire.

The Supreme Court decision in March didn’t affect UW-Eau Claire because it involved giving segregated fees to groups with ideological beliefs, which UW-Eau Claire doesn’t do.

But U.S. District Judge John C. Shabaz ruled that a system that allows student officials to decide what groups to fund fails to protect student rights.

He said that a viewpoint-neutral system required some objective criteria and the System doesn’t meet that standard.

Scott Southworth, who filed the initial case four and a half years ago because he disagreed with the liberal groups receiving money, told the Associated Press he was happy with the ruling.

He said he would like UW System schools to set up a system where students could opt to pay segregated fees.

“It’s a simple, straightforward mechanism that would end this case in February, when we come back to court,” he said. “It’s time for the Board of Regents to step up and do the right thing.”

The Court gave the UW System 60 days to find a new system. But Witkowski said that during the United Council’s last meeting members said they fully expect the Board of Regents to appeal the decision.

United Council will write an amicus brief, one supporting the Board’s appeal of the federal court decision. They also approved an Ad Hoc Committee consisting of all UW System schools that would advise the system on segregated fee allocation.