Following a recent article alleging liberal student organizations at the University of Wisconsin receive 20 times as much funding as conservative student organizations, the UW College Republicans and Young Americans for Freedom have led an intensified discussion surrounding segregated fee allocation by the Associated Students of Madison.
Currently, every UW student is required to pay roughly $1,300 per year in segregated fees as part of the costs of attending the university. A portion of these fees is allocated by ASM in a legally-mandated “viewpoint neutral” manner.
Kristi Parsons, vice chair of ASM’s Student Services Finance Committee, said the viewpoint neutrality mandate essentially requires nondiscrimination of any kind in allocating segregated fees.
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But Campus Reform, an arm of the conservative-leaning Leadership Institute which styles itself as a “watchdog” of college campus governance, released a report earlier this month alleging UW students pay an estimated $0.36 for “conservative” student organizations, compared to the $7.60 paid toward “liberal” student organizations — a 20-to-1 difference in favor of what the report identified as UW’s liberal student organizations.
Following the article’s release earlier this month, College Republicans, led by Chair Jake Lubenow, said in a Facebook post their student members are “sick and tired” of funding organizations they disagree with ideologically and advocated for a segregated fee opt-out.
“Right to Work gave workers across the state the same freedom we, as students, deserve,” the post said. “We want our state legislature to pick up the baton from Scott Walker and make seg fees optional.”
Additionally, the Wisconsin Federation of College Republicans said they would be working with Gov. Scott Walker to make segregated fees optional for UW System students — a proposal which Walker championed in a February 2017 speech.
In the weeks following the Campus Reform article’s posting, it received national attention from several conservative outlets, including The Daily Caller and Fox News. UW YAF Chair Abby Streu appeared in an early morning segment of Fox & Friends, where she discussed the issue with host Ainsley Earhardt.
“[The university] claims that its viewpoint neutral and that any student can apply for student government — which is true to a certain extent,” Streu said. “However, these committees allocating money know they can use loopholes to get through this. And along those lines, any student can apply for student government and any student can vote for student government, but honestly conservative students and libertarian students just don’t do it because they don’t want to be in the liberal echo chamber that is our student government.”
Streu, however, said the interview did not accurately portray her thoughts on the subject, and said she was cut-off before she could clarify her comments.
Nevertheless, Parsons said Streu’s interview showed her to be uninformed of how segregated fees are allocated by the Grant Allocation Committee and SSFC — the two segregated fee allocating bodies within ASM.
Parsons said she was unaware of what “loopholes” Streu was referring to, and said she’s not personally aware of any ASM member who has been able to use one to deny funding to a student organization.
But Streu said her reference to loopholes wasn’t “worded accurately,” and she meant to stress her belief that there has been bias in how GAC and SSFC has allocated segregated fees in the past. For this reason, she believes it would be “inaccurate” for either GAC or SSFC to argue they practice viewpoint neutrality in their decisions.
Additionally, Parsons said she believed the report’s failure to more clearly identify how it labeled groups as ‘liberal’ or ‘conservative’ served to further a “racist and sexist” argument coming from conservative groups on campus.
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“Jake Lubenow doesn’t want to fund specific groups,” Parsons said. “Jake Lubenow probably doesn’t want to fund Sex Out Loud. He probably doesn’t want his money going to the Campus Women’s Center or the Muslim Student’s Association or the Wisconsin Association of Black Men. He won’t say that out loud, but I have a feeling that’s where it is.”
Parsons said certain campus conservative organizations are trying to push an argument which maintains some groups are deserving of funding and other groups are not — a situation which she said is anathema to the First Amendment and the free exchange of open ideas on college campuses.
Lubenow, however, said the problem does not revolve around conservatives’ support for specific organizations. He said the issue is rather about the requirement mandating all students pay segregated fees.
“The College Republicans and conservatives on this campus, myself included, feel that every student should be able to decide whether to fund the many organizations that ASM funds,” Lubenow said. “The problem with allocable segregated fees is not whether I personally have specific issues with those organizations or not. The problem is that students are being coerced into funding organizations that they may have moral objections to and we believe in the freedom of association.”
Lubenow said he and College Republicans will continue to fight for the segregated fee opt-out going forward, which he said is a necessary freedom for all students — not just conservatives.
Streu also rejected Parson’s claim the Campus Reform article pushed a racist and sexist argument, and said she is under the impression most groups funded by ASM are progressive — even if they don’t directly claim it.
As examples, she said Sex Out Loud and the Campus Women’s Center pursue “leftist” beliefs, which would make their categorization as ‘liberal’ student organizations accurate.
“Sex Out Loud operates under the leftist belief that if you tell people not to rape, they won’t. Conservatives are realists, and believe that self-defense is often the only option to prevent rape, as humans are not good,” Streu said. “The Campus Women’s Center states that women are marginalized and restricted due to a plethora of -isms. This is a leftist belief. Conservatives believe every woman has every opportunity to succeed in the U.S. Thus, Campus Reform labeled these groups as liberal.”
Streu said these are not racist or sexist claims but rather the viewpoint of a “skeptic.”
As for Streu’s argument that ASM is a “liberal echo chamber,” Parsons said nothing will change unless conservative students run for office and include their voice in student governance.
“In order for the Associated Students of Madison to shift from being this ‘liberal echo chamber’ that she’s describing into a more open space that actually embodies a lot of different voices and points of thinking, conservatives need to join us — they need to fight for that space,” Parson said. “The funding is for every student, for every student organization — and you shouldn’t just give up because it’s a liberal space and you think it’s never going to change, because things always change.”
Streu, however, said it was “ludicrous” to suggest she should run for ASM in order to change it.
She stood by her comments that ASM is a “liberal echo chamber,” and said she has neither the desire nor the time to run for student government.
“To say that I need to run for office to change that is ludicrous. That is the equivalent of me telling someone who hates Paul Ryan to run for the US Congress,” Streu said. “I can advocate for ASM to be non-partisan, which is what they are supposed to be, without having to run for a seat.”
Update 11:23 p.m.: This article has been updated to include statements from Abby Streu.