The University of Wisconsin is no stranger to legal battles over segregated fees, but lately there’s been a dry spell. After the Roman Catholic Foundation of UW-Madison sued UW into the ground and eventually won their funds, UW seemed to be coasting along on a litigation-free academic year for 2008-09.
Then came that liberal bias.
At least that’s what Collegians for a Constructive Tomorrow would have us believe. After being denied funding eligibility by Student Services Finance Committee and appeals by Student Judiciary and Chancellor Biddy Martin, they appealed to a louder, if not necessarily higher, power in the person of Sen. Glenn Grothman, R-West Bend. They sent a letter to Ms. Martin demanding a reversal of this decision, which was also denied. And so they did the only thing a student group with no funding can do: Hire a lawyer.
The lawsuit against UW alleges two things. First, CFACT was denied due process because their application was rejected on the basis of missing paperwork. (They claim other student groups were allowed to re-file.) Second, they accuse SSFC, specifically Rep. Kyle Szarzynski, of violating viewpoint neutrality in the denial of their eligibility.
As CFACT sees it, they’re a conservative version of WISPIRG. So if WISPIRG gets money and they don’t, it must be a liberal conspiracy, right?
Not even close.
First, let’s give them the benefit of the doubt: CFACT’s lost paperwork may have just been a clerical error. ASM had criteria regarding when to accept late documents and they believed it didn’t fit the criteria.
Well, except for Mr. Szarzynski, who gave them the benefit of the doubt. In documents obtained by The Badger Herald, in the eligibility application under the section “Has the eligibility application been completed?” Mr. Szarzynski wrote: “Lack of denial by chair gives benefit of doubt to the group.”
So why would a well-known, fervent liberal actually give a procedural pass to a group he is trying to deliberately screw over?
In short, because he’s not trying to.
During the eligibility hearings, at no point is Mr. Szarzynski heard on recordings making remarks about the group’s conservative viewpoints in reference to their eligibility for funding. Mr. Szarzynski makes remarks comparing the two during WISPIRG’s eligibility hearing, which occurred after the CFACT decision. On a recording, Mr. Szarzynski is heard noting the reason why WISPIRG receives funding and CFACT doesn’t is WISPIRG practices definite activism and advocacy, teaching members how to lobby government and giving them tools to effectively address issues in a substantive way. CFACT, on the other hand, he says, amounts to a “series of events.”
And in reality, it’s hard to argue with him. Looking at WISPIRG’s and CFACT’s eligibility applications is like looking at night and day. WISPIRG outlines their direct services in four specific points and gives details of campaigns they created, what was involved, how it came out and how it benefited students. Further, they allow students to submit ideas for campaigns or issues and incorporate them into their campaigns.
CFACT, on the other hand, references several vaguely-named campaigns such as “energy,” says they allow people to submit ideas but will only give them resources if they’re a member or if CFACT votes to take up the campaign, provided it fits their philosophy or goals. On top of that, they have a great deal of events and lectures during the year that has usually comprised nearly a third of their funding.
The big difference is when SSFC discussed both these groups, they spent most of WISPIRG’s session figuring out what direct service was considered primary to the group’s mission. Discussion on CFACT revolved around what their direct service was and whether it amounted any significance.
In the end, Mr. Szarzynski may differ from Rep. Carl Fergus and Rep. Joseph French, but they all agreed: Most of CFACT’s service was in the form of events — be they Library Mall events or Ted Nugent lectures. Even CFACT admitted their student-run “campaigns” only comprise 10 to 20 percent of CFACT’s time. And according to SSFC eligibility requirement, 51 percent of the direct service must be something other than events or leadership opportunities — that’s just not enough.
Did Mr. Szarzynski rip CFACT’s ideology? Sure, but it was in a blog. There’s no evidence it had any bearing on his decision. At the end of the day, CFACT wasn’t approved for eligibility because there wasn’t enough there to justify funding. The group was welcomed to come back next year and figure out a more cohesive and open way to offer resources to students, but they objectively failed in this round.
So, CFACT, please don’t waste our time with this lawsuit. Either build your group into something deserving of segregated fees, or charge membership fees to fund your “Gaylord Nelson is a commie” pamphlets.