Overruling the campus student government, the administration of the University of Wisconsin at Stevens Point will recognize the conservative student group Turning Point USA. In a statement released Friday, Vice Chancellor for Student Affairs Al Thompson explained why he took action after the student government failed to reconsider its decision.
“I asked SGA to reconsider its action on November 16, based on UW-Stevens Point and UW System policies recognizing student organizations, SGA guidelines on viewpoint neutrality and a UW Board of Regents policy on academic expression,” Thompson wrote. “In the absence of further SGA action on November 16, I have determined that Turning Point USA meets the requirements to be recognized as a student organization at UW-Stevens Point.”
Under state law, students and faculty are allowed “shared governance” which allows University of Wisconsin System campus student governments a role in decision-making when it comes to student life. That includes the responsibility of recognizing student organizations, which allows those organizations to reserve meeting space and advertise their presence on campus. However, the power of student government is limited and subject to review by UW System campus administrations and, ultimately, the UW Board of Regents.
The “viewpoint neutrality” requirement at UW System universities referenced by Thompson is the result of a U.S. Supreme Court decision in“Southworth v. The Board of Regents of the University of Wisconsin System” when a group of conservative students at UW-Madison objected to mandatory student fees, or segregated fees, were being used to fund student organizations to which they objected. The Supreme Court ruled that as long as the process of distributing student funds was “content neutral,” the university student governments could allocate funds to almost all student organizations. The exceptions are for partisan political and religious student organizations.
The College Republicans at UW-Stevens Point were happy with the decision even as they were frustrated with the student government’s refusal to reconsider its decision.
“This win for freedom of speech benefits both current and future students who attend this university,” said Amelia Heup, chairman of the campus Republicans. “Unfortunately, this is a decision that should have been made earlier by the Student Government Association. I urge the SGA to recognize students’ right and the diversity of voices on this campus. A student’s rights do not end when entering a public university. Thank you to Vice-Chancellor Thompson for recognizing this.”