This is part 1 of a 2-part JAMS 320 series exploring the effect of Scott Walker’s opt out segregated fee proposal for UW-Milwaukee. Read part 2 here. This story was written by Amanda Becker with contributions from the JAMS 320 reporting class.
UW-Milwaukee could look like a completely different campus in the future. Major high-profile student resource centers, events and services – like the LGBTQ+ Center, the Women’s Center, Pantherfest, BOSS, UPASS, homecoming, and even some veterans’ services – could disappear under Scott Walker’s new budget proposal.
That’s the fear of campus leaders. And it’s just the start of a very long list.
“If these centers are to close down – which would probably happen… it would have devastating consequences for these populations,” said Student Association President Mike Sportiello. “They really do add to the diversity of the school. I know a lot of students have told me personally that if it wasn’t for the LGBT Resource Center, if it wasn’t for the Military and Veterans Resource Center, they wouldn’t still be in school. I think it’s the least we can do to ask each student to pay just a little bit extra each year to dramatically increase the retention rates of students who are most vulnerable.” Listen to Student Association leaders, Cole Meller and Sportiello, discuss the plan and its potential impact on campus:
Walker’s budget – if approved by the Republican-controlled Legislature – would allow students to opt out of paying what are called “allocable segregated fees” starting in 2018. The fees – which all students now pay except in rare cases – fund dozens of student groups and activities on campus, like UWM’s growing number of sports clubs, including the nationally recognized Black Cat Frisbee team, lacrosse and football. If students opt out – presuming Walker’s plan passes – those are just some of the things that might no longer exist on the Milwaukee campus.
According to the Student Association, the total allocable seg fee paid by each student was $229.50 in 2016 and $170.25 in 2017; the SA says the number has been declining as SA worked toward finding efficiencies. “For the past three years, we’ve really trimmed the fat out of all our departments,” said SA’s Meller.
Walker’s spokesman said the proposal was driven by a desire to make college more affordable for students all through the UW System and brought up a sex talk funded by the fees at UW-Madison as a driving reason students should be allowed to opt out. The press release on that organization, Sex Out Loud, said it sponsored a week that provided information on “sexual violence, healthy relationships, sexually transmitted infections, effects of drug and alcohol use on decision-making, and sexual pleasure.”
At UWM, the fees fund a lot more than that sort of week, though. If enough students opt of paying the fees, as some student leaders fear they will, you will no longer see events like Kareem Abdul-Jabbar coming to Milwaukee, free for students to attend, dancers in the union, or therapy dogs in the library. Major centers rely entirely or almost entirely on the fees, including those devoted to LGBTQ students, women, neighborhood services, and an inclusive excellence center, and the money also goes to things like student parking costs, free bus passes, and student activities that sponsor such high profile events as Pantherfest. In addition, student groups like the Muslim Student Association and Sailing Club (UWM’s oldest) apply for operational grants.
The Student Association says the fees are currently “assessed to all students for student services, activities, programs and facilities that support the mission of UW System institutions.” Walker says that students should be able to choose whether they want to pay them, much as he previously advocated giving union workers the option to pay dues (leading to a decline in those who did).
Sportiello said he doesn’t think the majority of people will opt-in when given the choice, and that could lead to a lack of student involvement, spurring a graveyard spiral of declining retention and graduation rates at a university already struggling to up them.
“The sooner you start cutting services, the harder it is for students to actually graduate,” said Sportiello. “There are better ways to save students money than to cut seg fees.”
Minimally, student and campus leaders fear the funding will drop (and be unpredictable) for a host of student groups, events and centers that fund everything from green fund environmental efforts to a campus legal clinic for students to BOSS, which stands for Be on the Safe Side and provides students with escorts at night if they feel unsafe.
“Student Involvement is 100 percent funded by seg fees. I think the number of people opting out will be so great, we won’t have money,” said Sportiello. He pointed out that some student parking is subsidized by the fees, which could result in raised prices. “Prices will either, A, skyrocket or, B, organizations will shut down,” Sportiello said, adding, “Pantherfest will be gone for sure.”
Students interviewed by Media Milwaukee were mixed on whether they’d opt in or out, highlighting what could become a nightmare for centers and orgs, as they try to predict always changing funding levels. Some students said they would opt out, but others said they would opt in, especially when it was explained what was at stake, showing that education might make a difference because many students say they don’t even realize what “allocable segregated fees” are and didn’t know they were paying them. Other students said they’d opt out of some, not others.
The truth is no one knows for sure what would happen, but critics of the plan are concerned that it’s human nature to not pay for something if it’s not required. If enough students opted out, it could fundamentally alter the campus fabric of the public university that, over the past few decades, has worked to forge a more cohesive campus identity on what was historically a commuter college experience. (Read Wednesday’s story for a video with student reactions). Sportiello said the Student Association has heard that, if it passes, the plan is to have students choose from a smorgasbord of choices when they pay tuition, giving them the ability to deselect some groups but choose others, raising concerns that marginalized populations could suffer at the whim of the majority.
Matthew O’Connell, a freshman at UWM in the Lubar School of Business, said the activities are a draw for students.
“Part of the reason I chose UWM is because of the diversity and the sense of community,” said O’Connell.
Other students, like SeongBum Hwang, believe they shouldn’t have to fund resources they don’t use.
“In my opinion, that’s too much to pay,” said Hwang. “Maybe there is a way students would be able to pick and choose which programs they want to contribute to when filing for their financial aid? I think that could work.”
The allocable seg fees are basically split into two categories: They fund major support centers on campus, and they are allocated by student leaders to student organizations to fund operations, travel, and activities. They are largely distributed by elected student leaders.
It’s also important to realize what is not at stake here: Walker’s plan does not cover the portion of segregated fees known as “unallocable.” Those fund core services like the Norris Health Center and student union. The veterans’ center might only see a decrease in services because it’s not entirely funded by the allocable fees, but other centers are almost if not entirely funded by them, Sportiello said.
Here are the major centers and funds paid by allocable fees:
Athletics used to be funded by allocable fees until the fall, when it switched to unallocable, but a portion of the budget still comes from the fees in peril, funding things like the Panther dance team. Sportiello said the change was designed to bring UWM’s Athletics in line with how programs at other universities are funded and was not a sign of advance knowledge of the Walker plan.
Chancellor Mark Mone and Associate Vice Chancellor Jim Hill both voiced major concerns about campus progress and safety without this guaranteed funding.
The chancellor released a statement saying, in part, “We question whether the full impact of this provision was known by the governor when it was proposed, as the magnitude of this as a potential ‘cut’ is much greater than what might be UWM’s share of any new performance-based funding as proposed in the budget.”
Hill was equally concerned, saying the fees fund services that go “a long way toward making UWM a place that is welcoming to all of our students no matter their background and interest.”
“If individual students had the opportunity to opt out of paying these fees, we would anticipate that the programs funded by those fees might no longer be sustainable,” said Hill. “This would amount to another significant cut to programs for students.”
The Walker opt out proposal would affect all UW System campuses.
Stephanie Marquis, UW System director of Communications University Relations, said, “We certainly understand the desire to ensure higher education is affordable; however, we are concerned about unintended consequences of this shift. In addition to affecting opportunities for students, needed services – such as pharmacies and labs – are often funded by allocable fees. Further, allocable fees also fund student initiated programs and activities, such as bus and transit programs and recreational sports. These programs influence student experience and can increase the likelihood of successful degree completion. Changes to this approach may disadvantage lower income students by limiting accessibility, while also preventing participation in student activities or organizations.”
Sarah DeGeorge is a graduate student who helps run the LGBTQ+ Center on Campus. “Enrollment would drop dramatically,” she predicted, if the support services are lost. The LGBTQ+ Resource Center relies completely on seg fee funding.
DeGeorge, an executive assistant at the center, also gives campus tours. She said groups touring campus ask about campus resources first. DeGeorge believes students may opt out, leading to a loss of revenue that will ultimately have a negative impact on enrollment.
DeGeorge said the budget goes to paying staff members who organize educational workshops for the center. She also said the work of the LGBTQ+ Resource Center contributes to making campus more diverse.
“Seg fee funded centers improve student life and make the campus a more attractive place to spend four years,” said DeGeorge. “We also give many presentations to staff and faculty who want to better learn how to create an inclusive, welcoming classroom for all students.”
“Sex Out Loud”
Gov. Walker said in a press release that the change is necessary because students can’t afford college anymore. He slipped the seg fee opt out proposal in a budget that also reduces tuition by 5 percent (many confuse the two, but segregated fees are not tuition dollars, and the latter cannot be used to make up for their loss). Walker isn’t saying much about the seg fee plan, but his spokesman told Media Milwaukee the change was driven both by college affordability concerns and the “Sex Out Loud” program at UW-Madison.
The only mention of allocable segregated fees within the budget says: “The Governor recommends that students be given the option to decline to pay allocable segregated fees at the time the student pays tuition beginning with the 2018-19 academic year.”
Walker further said through a press release, “allocable fees do not go towards long term commitments or ongoing operational costs of university owned and controlled buildings.” The press release further states, “Allowing an opt-out helps students make the decisions on what they do and do not want to fund.”
The overall Walker UW budget proposal, announced on Feb. 7, focuses on affordability, performance-based funding and pushing the UW System towards a workforce development mission, which comes after Walker’s proposed $300 million budget cut for the UW System the last time around. Some students would have the option of graduating in three years instead of four, and all students would be required to take an internship. With provisions as significant as those, the seg fee opt out plan slipped beneath the radar, receiving scant media attention.
However, it has the potential of completely remaking the student experience on campus.
“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,” insisted Thomas Evenson, the Deputy Communications Director for Governor Scott Walker.
Sex Out Loud received $103,398 in funding last year, according to an article in The Wisconsin State Journal.
Sportiello says case law requires that the fees be distributed in a “viewpoint neutral” manner.
Here’s the second list of activities and organizations funded by the allocable segregated fees at UWM.
Gov. Walker’s son, Alex Walker, a chairman for the Federation of College Republicans and a student on the Madison campus, told Media Milwaukee in an interview that student organizations should be self-sufficient and funded by charging membership dues, receiving private contributions from alumni and fundraising events.
In a tweet about the Madison Campus, Alex Walker said, “There are more than 200 student organizations on campus that do not receive funding, while these select few do.”
Giving students the freedom to decide for themselves whether they want to fund student orgs they aren't involved in makes perfect sense.
— Alex Walker (@AlexWalkerWI) February 16, 2017
He also pointed out that he wants student organizations to be self-sufficient. “All the organizations I run are self – sufficient,” Walker said. When asked how these organizations can become self-sufficient, Walker said, “The same way the hundreds of other clubs on campus are self-sufficient: membership dues, private contributions from alumni, fundraising events, etc.”
Eric Jessup-Anger is the Associate Director of Student Involvement and the Student Union at UW-Milwaukee.
Jessup-Anger says Student Involvement’s mission is to create powerful learning opportunities that are available outside of academics. “We want every single student on campus involved in something,” says Jessup-Anger.
Student Involvement aims to help students find their place on campus and to allow students to express their interests. Student Involvement works with organizations to help plan and execute all their activities.
“Everything we do is funded through segregated fees,” says Jessup-Anger. “Student Involvement can’t exist without segregated fees.”
Coming Wednesday: Learn more details about what the fees fund.
This story was written by JAMS 320 student Amanda Becker with reporting and writing contributions from the following students in alphabetical order: Evan Casey, Dino Dominici, Emily Gallagher-Schmitz, Lillian Gonzalez, Ariel Goronja, Amanda Maniscalco, Danielle Miller, Rebecca Otis, Rhea Riley, Samuel Schmitz, Rukiya Stewart, Taylor Strickland, William Tewes.