The student fees Gov. Scott Walker would make optional pay for passes that give UW-Madison students unlimited rides on Metro Transit buses and a student government that has called for administrators to declare the university a “sanctuary campus” for undocumented immigrants.
The fees also support UW-Madison’s campus radio station, a contract with the Dane County Rape Crisis Center and an array of student organizations, including one that distributes condoms, another that provides free tutoring and one made up of Catholic students.
At a time when political divisions seem to be widening between students who help make the university a bastion of Wisconsin’s left and lawmakers in the conservative state Legislature, Walker’s proposal could pull funding from a campus government and organizations with a history of liberal activism, as well as several non-political initiatives and groups.
He wants to give students the option of paying what are known as allocable fees. Walker has included the provision in his 2017-19 spending plan.
Members of UW-Madison’s student government say allocable fees represent a small slice of annual fees and pay for valuable services that support students and enrich their time on campus.
Associated Students of Madison chairwoman Carmen Gosey also said she was concerned the opt-out provision would threaten funding for the campus government, which she describes as an “activist organization” that pushes for causes affecting students.
“This is a way to take power away from students and sort of suppress that voice,” Gosey said.
But many conservative students take a different view. Alex Walker, a UW-Madison student, chairman of the College Republican Federation of Wisconsin and son of Scott Walker, said the budget proposal gives students the ability to choose whether they want to spend money to support organizations that they might not agree with.
“Conservative students definitely don’t feel like they’re represented by ASM,” Alex Walker said of the student government. “It is frustrating to see political activism funded by students’ segregated fees.”
Tom Evenson, a spokesman for the governor, similarly said students should be able to decide if they want to pay for campus organizations.
“At a time when we want to make college more affordable, we should not be forcing all students to pay for things such as ‘Sex Out Loud,’ ” Evenson said.
He was referring to a UW-Madison group that gives away condoms and leads workshops on sexual health and pleasure. Sex Out Loud received $103,398 in funding from student fees this school year.
“Where students and their families are asked to pay for optional activities, the governor’s budget provides the freedom to choose,” Evenson said.
A portion of fees
Allocable segregated fees represent $177.96 of the $1,215.12 UW-Madison students paid in fees for this school year. Most of the money from allocable fees pays for Metro Transit bus passes available to every student; funding for campus government and organizations accounts for $67 per year.
Many of the organizations funded by the fee have no political agenda, such as the campus radio station, WSUM, and the Greater University Tutoring Service, which organizes peer tutoring and other programs.
Gosey argued cutting allocable fees would worsen students’ experiences on campus without saving them much money.
Walker’s budget would not allow students to opt out of paying non-allocable fees, the category that funds University Health Services, the Wisconsin Union and other costs for $1,037.16 per year.
Alex Walker said non-allocable fees fund “essential” services, while relatively few students are involved in organizations that receive funding. The amount paid for allocable fees is less, but “over a four-year span it adds up,” Walker said.
ASM plans to lobby legislators and fellow students — who Gosey acknowledged might like the idea of reducing their annual fees — against the governor’s proposal, Gosey said.
She noted the fees also fund grants that ASM distributes to hundreds of campus organizations to help them host events, print fliers and send members to conferences.
Grants and other funding from student fees is distributed regardless of political affiliation, Gosey said, pointing to both Sex Out Loud and the religious organization Badger Catholic as groups that receive funding from allocable fees. UW-Madison’s College Republicans received a $3,000 grant in 2016 to attend the annual Conservative Political Action Conference in Washington, D.C.
“All students have access to this, regardless of their mission,” she said.