The University of Wisconsin student government’s decision to fund a secular student group Thursday caused a stir among the national media.
Associated Students of Madison’s Student Services Finance Committee granted funding to Atheists, Humanists and Agnostics from the General Student Services Fund last week, resulting in national media attention.
According to ASM Press Office Director David Gardner, at their last count 37 publications had picked up the story. Among those were The Associated Press, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel and the Christian Post, Gardner said.
AHA’s final budget decision was the primary reason the story made national news, Gardner added, as the budget is the largest amount of funding any atheist student organization has ever received from a university in the U.S.
“UW-Madison is setting a record for the amount of funding given to this kind of organization,” Gardner said.
In the wake of the funding grant, Gardner said reaction has been comprised mostly of press inquiries, but the office has also received several complaints from students and parents, expressing concern with SSFC’s decision to fund AHA.
Gardner did not get into specifics about what the concerns centered on specifically. However, despite these concerns, Gardner said the media attention has remained mainly informational regarding the budget decision.
AHA Executive Director Chris Calvey said he had no issue regarding his organization’s portrayal in the national media.
“I’m extremely proud of what we have accomplished within AHA over the past few years,” Calvey said. “It’s very gratifying when national media outlets also recognize the significance of what we’re doing on campus.”
According to Calvey, the organization has increased their presence as a student organization on the UW campus over the past few years.
However, this is the first year the group has asked for General Student Services Fund funding for their primary direct services, faith questioning counseling and secular support groups, Calvey added.
“The funds AHA is receiving from GSSF are a real game-changer for us,” Calvey said. “This budget will allow us to offer our services and programming at a level far beyond what any atheist student group has ever done before.”
Gardner also emphasized SSFC made their decision to grant AHA funding because the group proved over 50 percent of their work was providing a direct service to students on the UW campus – a requirement for funding eligibility.
According to an ASM press release, when determining the eligibility of the group, SSFC must maintain neutral regarding the viewpoint of the organization, their viewpoint relative to other groups on campus and the group’s history on campus.
Gardner said most of the national media represented the group’s eligibility and SSFC’s viewpoint neutrality accurately.
“ASM does not take the viewpoint of the group into consideration when they are deciding funding,” he said. “Most articles respected that.”
Calvey said despite some portions of their budget being cut, AHA felt that SSFC treated them fairly throughout the entire process.
“I want to commend [SSFC] for making decisions consistently in a viewpoint neutral manner,” he said.
The committee voted to approve a budget of $69,161.10 for fiscal year 2013-14.