ISU keeps close eye on student fees case

Melissa Berg

The U.S. Supreme Court heard arguments Tuesday in a case debating the constitutionality of student activity fees that could drastically affect the way colleges and universities around the country collect these fees from students.

The case emerged from a lawsuit filed at the University of Wisconsin at Madison against the school, challenging the funding of certain organizations, such as the International Socialist Organization and the gay and lesbian campus center, with student activity fees.

Iowa State’s student activity fees system is similar to the University of Wisconsin, said Warren Madden, vice president of Business and Finance.

ISU students pay $134.82 per semester for student activity fees.

“This includes student activities, student services and building fees, which applies to both undergraduate and graduate students,” Madden said.

The Government of the Student Body then allocates funds to the individual student organizations, including cultural, recreational and international clubs, as well as campus publications, lectures and support organizations.

“They do include some of the types of organizations that have been an issue in Wisconsin, such as the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Ally Alliance, the Black Student Alliance, [Students Against Drunk Driving], The Drummer and the [Iowa State] Daily, which for some may be controversial,” Madden said.

However, the way the fees are doled out at ISU could drastically change depending on the outcome of the Wisconsin case.

Paul Tanaka, director of University Legal Services, said it is difficult to predict the outcome of this case and how it will affect ISU.

“It is conceivable that if they find the Wisconsin system unacceptable, ours still might be [acceptable],” he said. Tanaka said he would expect the Supreme Court to render a decision by at least June.

If the Supreme Court finds student activity fees unconstitutional, Tanaka said it is likely that a check-off system will be implemented.

A check-off system would allow students to choose which organizations their fees will fund.

The California Supreme Court found its state colleges’ student activity fee systems illegal, and because of this, California schools have been using a check-off system for some time, Tanaka said.

Garrett Toay, GSB vice president, said GSB has no stance about the case as of yet, but members will be interested in how it plays out.

“It’s not really an issue now because it hasn’t been discussed on campus that much by the average Joe. We are waiting to see what happens with the University of Wisconsin before we react,” he said.

Michel Pogge, GSB off-campus senator, said the current system works effectively for ISU, but if the court mandates a change, ISU may have to switch to some type of check-off system.

Pogge said he would be supportive of such a change even if it does not become legally required.

“I am in favor of a negative check-off system, which is where the student can choose not to fund certain organizations,” he said.

The money not given to that group would go into a pool of scholarships, Pogge said.

There already are supporters coming to the defense of the University of Wisconsin, Pogge said. Iowa Attorney General Tom Miller has written a brief in support of the current student activity fee system.

Pogge said no matter what the outcome, student fees are a vital part of a university community. “It will be a very sad day if [student activity fees] are ruled unconstitutional,” he said.