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Supreme Court hears case on student fee allocation controversy

Nov. 10, 1999



The United States Supreme Court heard arguments Tuesday on whether public colleges and universities can impose mandatory student fees to be used to fund political organizations on campus.

In 1996, then-University of Wisconsin-Madison law student Scott Southworth sued the school claiming his $15 student fee was used to support organizations that he and other students did not want their money going toward, including the International Socialist Organization and a lesbian, gay and bisexual campus center.

A lower court and then the 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals both ruled in Southworth's favor, stating students should not be forced to financially subsidize groups with which they disagree on political and ideological grounds.

The school appealed the case until it reached the U.S. Supreme Court, which agreed to hear arguments.

Whatever decision the court makes, which could come as late as next July, it will have little effect on the allocation of student activity fees at Baylor, since the school is a private institution.

'In regard to students' relationship with Baylor, the [U.S.] Constitution does not apply,' said Basil Thomson, associate general counsel.

Thomson said when people decide to come to Baylor, they enter into a kind of contract, agreeing to let the school decide how to spend student fees.

'[The Supreme Court's] decision will be significant to state universities but will not have an impact on the operations at Baylor,' Thomson said.

Student body internal vice president Ryan Goeb explained that Baylor does not directly fund student organizations the same as many state universities.

'That's why we have to pay club dues,' Goeb said.

Student Congress does have control over the allocation of the student life fee, which is one dollar paid by every undergraduate student each semester.

'Congress uses the fund to allocate money to organizations which ask for it,' Goeb said.

When Congress is deciding which events to fund, it looks at which activities will benefit campus as a whole.

'Congress' by-laws require activities to be all-university events,' Goeb said.