Is the UW segregated fees policy illegal?
Michael Wilson
The legality of the University of Wisconsin System’s policy on student segregated fee allocations, Financial Policy 50, is being currently contested by the chief financial officer in UW - Madison’s student government and by the United Council of UW Students (UC), the statewide student association.

Sarah Neibart, who chairs UW-Madison’s Student Services Finance Committee, said in an interview that the UW System Administration financial policy, which separates students’ rights over segregated fees into those "allocable" and "non-allocable" directly by students--F-50 was enacted through an "illegal process" that necessitates formal review.

"Financial policy paper F-50 is illegal because it was not approved through an administrative rule," said Neibart, noting that "the Board of Regents have administrative codes that lay out how certain policies from the legislature apply to them; however, F-50 was never made that way." Students in University of Wisconsin (UW) campuses, in consultation with their chancellors and the UW Board of Regents, have the "primary responsibility" to directly allocate "student activity fees," according to state law.

Statute 36.09(5), which gives students this authority, among other powers, such as the right to organize and select their representatives, is a short paragraph that has been contested and interpreted several times by the state and federal supreme courts. With each decision, new sets of legal precedents are drawn, invariably adding teeth to students’ roles in the decision-making process.

As the meaning and intent of this paragraph is re-interpreted, the UW Board of Regents, a state agency, once to reflect these legal adjustments in its administrative policy. However, one of these policies is becoming the center of a statewide debate on student rights.

"Over the years, actual practice of the institutional guarantee to students’ right to shared governance has deviated from original intentions of the law," said Seth Hoffmeister, President of United Council.

The United Council board of directors recently approved a resolution calling on the Board of Regents to review F-50 and address what it sees as "a contradiction between the institutionalized right students have to distribute these fees, and the utter lack of say
over a growing portion of them, the non-allocable portion," Hoffmeister said.

While no such differentiation exists in state law, UW Policy F-50 separates segregated fees into "allocable fees"—such as those that fund student organizations, which fall directly under student jurisdiction— and "non-allocable fees," which fund other student services such as the operation of health services or student unions. Non-allocable fees fall ultimately under the responsibility of the chancellor, although students can provide non-binding input on their distribution.

Neibart says she will continue working with students on other campuses and at the state level. She has called her counterparts who head student finance committees across the state into action, taking "a hardline stance of student involvement and decision making authority over [segregated] fees."

"If enough student governments back the call to review F-50 and possibly remove the distinction between fees, the Board of Regents would be forced to take the issue up," Hoffmeister said.

"Working with faculty and administration is crucial to our success, but it won’t mean a thing if we do not have a strong student voice. By strengthening our right to self govern, we strengthen the university and the state," Hoffmeister said.

Criticizing the move, the Badger Herald Editorial Board issued a statement calling on UC and ASM to refrain from making legal maneuvers that could affect the administrative code, as the process could backfire and limit current student authority.

"The current Legislature or governor may decide that students should not be trusted with such a great budgetary power and may limit our control of allocable funds as well as eliminate any power we have over non-allocable funds," stated the Herald Editorial Board, which noted that if the policy was re-written to give full authority to students, the burden would be too high for segregated fee allocation committees.

In response, ASM Government Relations Advisor Michael Moscicke stated "the process for creating administrative rules would not involve the legislature altering state statue 36. Administrative rules may only interpret state law, they cannot alter or supersede those laws," Moscicke said.