The City Council took a stance Tuesday against a University of Wisconsin mandate requiring international students to pay a fee to help fund their surveillance by the federal government.
Backed by a resolution sponsored by Ald. Austin King, District 8, representatives from international student organizations, the Teaching Assistants Association and the Associated Students of Madison, attended last night’s Madison City Council meeting in order to ask the council to voice its opposition against the proposed Student Exchange Visitors Information System fee plan.
The plan would require international students to pay a $125 annual fee to cover the costs of implementing the federally mandated SEVIS program that would serve as a database to track the activity of international students.
The students present suggested that the $330,000 cost be spread across the entire student body, setting the fee at an approximated $4.50 that could be added to segregated fees or tuition.
“I will happily, if not eagerly, pay my share to show international students that I value their presence on campus,” UW student and U.S. native Peter Vincent said.
According to UW student Kate McCoy, 1,500 UW students have already signed a petition that echoes this view. McCoy said 24 UW departments as well as universities from across the country have also voiced their opposition to the proposed SEVIS fee plan.
Even though 40 students and community members were present in opposition to Chancellor John Wiley’s proposed SEVIS fee plan and a heated debate took place outside the council meeting before the resolution was presented, Wiley continued to argue that the proposed fee is differential and nondiscriminatory.
“I wish we had alternative means for covering these costs,” Wiley said. “We will look into spreading the cost over all students, but the fee has to be imposed on someone.”
Wiley, who left the open forum immediately after his speech, questioned why the city should be involved in the resolution of the issue. However, the students present as well as the majority of the council felt the city’s opposition to the fee would be symbolic of the city’s continual efforts to rid Madison of any form of discrimination.
“I am sympathetic to Chancellor Wiley,” Ald. Linda Bellman, District 1, said. “But to single out a specific group is despicable.”
Ald. Cindy Thomas, District 7, believes the council has no authority over UW issues and should not vote on resolutions concerning the university.
“We have no business telling the university how to deal with this matter,” Thomas said. “Passing this resolution will not create the goodwill necessary to form the trust and compromise we will ask of the university in the future.”
One student mentioned his concern that if the city would not voice its opinion, the issue would not be properly addressed until the fall.
“We have already been to the chancellor’s office,” the student said. “We are asking you to be our good neighbors. If nothing else is done, no other options will be explored.”
Ald. Austin King, District 8, who sponsored the resolution “to defend the equal protection of international students,” stated his belief that this is one of “the most significant civil-rights issues in the community to date.”
“When the chancellor proposes a fee on only international students, he suggests that xenophobia has become a reality,” King said.
After one and a half hours of open forum debate, the resolution passed with a majority vote of 12-2.