Guidry says the "opt-in" system could mean "nightmare-ish scenarios" for United Council.
After members of the Joint Finance Committee voted last week to freeze UW tuition rates, Matt Guidry says he went up shake their hands. But he and other members of the United Council of UW Students then watched in surprise as the committee also passed a provision that will likely significantly decrease the nonpartisan group's funding.
"We've worked so hard to ask for lowering tuition, and now even freezing tuition," Guidry, communications director for the group, says in an interview. "And in the same breath they were able to basically strike down the student voice by defunding us ... [through] specific targeting of the refundable fee."
The United Council of UW Students was established in 1960 to advocate for students on such issues as financial aid, tuition and student recruitment and retention. The group lobbies the state Legislature and informs students on educational issues as well. The group represents 20 of 26 campuses in the UW System.
The $3 "refundable fee" is tacked onto students' segregated fees at schools that sponsor United Council; the fee goes directly toward the group's budget. The $3 fee is currently mandatory, but also refundable upon request, according to Guidry.
The JFC's provision would make the $3 refundable fee optional instead of mandatory, and students attending campuses that sponsor United Council would vote to either "opt-in" or "opt-out" of paying the fee. The new provision would not affect funding for any other student group in the UW system.
Guidry says the "opt-in" system could mean "nightmare-ish scenarios" for United Council, which would have to "waste" half of the academic year promoting its group to students rather than working full-time to tackle issues.
"It means looking at the whole organization's capacity and cutting it in half, or even a tenth of what it is now," Guidry says.
But Rep. John Nygren (R-Marinette), who is co-chair of the Joint Finance Committee, said at the panel's May 23 meeting that United Council should have "no problem" making its case to students. He also said a mandatory fee is "not appropriate" and that students should have the choice to opt-in or out.
Former student leaders released a joint statement (PDF) May 23 defending the action by the Joint Finance Committee, saying the decision would provide students with the option to withhold funding from an organization they might not agree with.
Former Associated Students of Madison Chair Andrew Bulovsky, who signed the statement, says that United Council pushes policies that are "anything but nonpartisan." He said the group suppresses conservative views, among others, that do not align with its viewpoint.
"I would like to see United Council do a better job reaching out to organizations it may not agree with," Bulovsky says.
But Guidry says United Council "pulls in a lot of folks from across the spectrum" to work on its campaigns. He says that College Democrats, College Republicans and United Council joined forces in the fall of 2012 to register thousands of students across the UW System to vote.
"We are a nonpartisan, nonprofit organization," Guidry says. "We do not endorse candidates, and we do not give money to candidates."
Rep. Cory Mason (D-Racine), a member of the Joint Finance Committee, said at the panel's meeting that it would be a "real disservice" to the UW System to "decimate" funding for United Council. Mason said the group is the reason the committee voted for a tuition freeze.
"It wasn't administrators, it wasn't the chancellor, wasn't UW lobbyists and it wasn't alumni or academic staff," Mason said at the May 23 meeting. "It was students, who on their own, through these fees, have come together to advocate for the UW system and to make sure it is accessible and affordable for them."