On Thursday, October 20, the Student Senate voted down 4-12 an appeal by the Wisconsin Public Interest Research Group (WISPIRG) to gain recognized student organization status.
"They voted this way in spite of the fact that WISPIRG has a history over the past 10 years on the UWSP campus of strong wins for our campaigns. Just last year WISPIRG raised over $1000 for Hunger and Homelessness and phoned out over 3000 Get Out the Vote reminders," said Jessica Mauser, WISPIRG President.
WISPIRG’s problems started last semester. "Last Spring, newly elected officers took over at the end of the semester and voted to dissolve in a closed session," said Seth Hoffmeister, Student Senator and President of the United Council of UW Students.
During the summer, the new student WISPIRG organizers were informed that they would not be given access to the money that was allocated to them through the annual budget process for student organizations in the spring.
"The Speaker of the Senate had some emails from
people who were in WISPIRG last year basically saying that WISPIRG shouldn’t be
," stated Senator Nichole Guelcher. At the first hearing, only four students voted in favor of WISPIRG.
"We met for our second hearing with SGA on October 20th, with 754 petitions from students on campus and statements of support from 5 student groups, including the Inter- Greek Council which represents all 8 of the Greek organizations on campus," Mauser said.
"The first time, Senators said they were not allowed recognition it was because of their budget. This time around, they would have had to apply for a new budget, and go through a separate process for that entirely, so the budget had nothing to do with it," Hoffmeister said.
At the second hearing, WISPIRG President Mauser spoke to the Senate, stating WISPIRG was "not here to talk about our budget because this is a recognition vote."
Senator Crystal Laabs, who spoke against WISPIRG, stated that viewpoint neutrality "only applies to funding issues and not to recognition. I don’t want to hear any discussion about violations of viewpoint neutrality being broken."
"It is part of our duty to look at the dues they pay. They say we should not talk about budgets, but a due is set in stone," said Speaker of the Senate Parker Smith. "So, I think it is imperative that we look at those dues tonight."
Then, UWSP alumna Erika Wolf, who was in the audience, requested a speaking turn to clarify that because viewpoint neutrality criteria inherently applied by law to recognition of student organizations, the previous comment about it was "inaccurate" and "viewpoint neutrality applies to this conversation."
"I just want to make sure that you all don’t put yourselves in a position where WISPIRG might decide to sue you for violating this law against their interests," Wolf said.
"Are we 110 percent behind every action of this group?" asked Senator Crystal Laabs. "Is this what we want this university to recognize?"
"Students fundamentally have the right granted to them by state law to ‘organize as they see fit.’ And Senate denied them this right only because they didn’t like the group; they don’t like what they stand for," Hoffmeister said.
"It is a progressive, grass roots, liberal organization. But we recognize the College Republicans and the College Democrats. There are pro-life and pro-choice groups at UWSP," Hoffmeister said. "If there are people who disagree with the organization’s ideology, we can have that conversation, but it must follow due process. We should not make special cases for organizations that we disagree with."
In the Oct. 27 article entitled “WISPIRG Recognition Denied by SGA Senate” by Michael Wilson, SGA Senator Nichole Guelcher was misquoted as saying that “the Speaker of the Senate [Parker Smith] had sent an email saying WISPIRG should not be recognized for a variety of reasons.” What Guelcher actually said is that “the Speaker of the Senate had some emails from people who were in WISPIRG last year basically saying that WISPIRG shouldn’t be recognized.”