Minn. students sue over activities fees
Claim First Amendment rights are violated by distribution process
MINNESOTA — Five students at the University of Minnesota have followed in the footsteps of Wisconsin students and sued their school over the allocation of student fees.
“Students should not be forced to support groups that promote ideological and political positions which are contrary to their own,” said Matthew Curry, one of the five plaintiffs and a senior at the University of Minnesota Twin City campus.
He said that the group of students object to being forced to pay fees that support groups like those that “embrace the abortion movement, champion the homosexual lifestyle and support the communist regime in Cuba.” Specifically named in the case are U-YW (affiliated with the YWCA), the Queer Student Cultural Center and La Raza Student Cultural Center.
The university1s response to the suit, which was filed in February, said that they “have the legal authority to do what they are doing,” Jordan Lorence, attorney for the students, said.
The suit raises questions about whether students who object to the content of a student publication could contest the fact that student fee money goes to support it. The university says that the student activities fees system is needed to keep diversity on the campus.
“A university campus ought to be a place where diverse student organizations flourish, thereby enhancing educational opportunities for all students,” William Hogan, chairman for the board of regents, said. “Student organizations facilitate the discussion of ideas and stimulate robust campus debate.”
University President Mark Yudof said that it is not fair to favor one student group over another with activities fees.
“The university has always been and must be viewpoint-neutral in the allocation of money for student organizations,” he said. “We cannot discriminate among organizations on the basis of their political or religious ideas and positions.”
A February report in The Minnesota Daily, the Twin Cities campus1 student newspaper, said that two groups were planning to intervene. According to the article, members of the Queer Student Cultural Center had asked the Lambda Legal Defense and Education Fund, a national group for gay and lesbian rights, to help them intervene in the case.
A similar case in Wisconsin is being appealed to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit. Students at the University of Wisconsin had sued the school over activities fees, saying it was against their First Amendment rights to force them to support groups with whom they did not agree. A lower court ruled in favor of the students, and the university is now appealing the decision.
reports, Spring 1998