WMU News

Student assessment fee policy revised

Sept. 22, 2002

KALAMAZOO -- The student assessment fee policy was revised by the Western Michigan University Board of Trustees at its meeting Sept. 20 in accordance with the current state of the law and in response to requests from the University's student governing board.

The revision recognizes recent changes in the law that require student assessment fees to be distributed in a "viewpoint neutral" fashion. Also during the September board meeting, trustees approved minor changes to the University's research misconduct policy.

Colleges and universities commonly charge student assessment fees to help finance student organizations and the out-of-class events and experiences they provide. WMU's fee of $12 per semester and $6 per session is collected from both graduate and undergraduate students and has been used to help pay for such activities as homecoming, Bronco Bash, student leader retreats, the Native American Student Organization Pow Wow, the annual National Pan-Hellenic Council Marchdown, leadership speakers and other student organization programs and activities.

Language in the assessment fee policy had stated that funds could not be expended for religious purposes or political candidates and campaigns. However, both the WMU administration and Western Student Association agreed that the policy needed updating based on a 1995 and a 2000 U.S. Supreme Court decision. In addition, the WSA passed two resolutions earlier this year calling upon the Board of Trustees to change the policy's language so it would be allowed to fund political programs and so religious programs would have an equal opportunity to receive funding.

Carol L.J. Hustoles, WMU vice president for legal affairs and general counsel, notes that although viewpoint neutrality is referenced in the recent Supreme Court decisions, neither the high court nor lower courts have provided much guidance to date on what constitutes such neutrality.

According to Hustoles, WMU's new policy wording is broad enough to be consistent with those Supreme Court decisions, yet flexible enough to survive the courts' future interpretations of viewpoint neutrality. Dr. Diane K. Swartz, vice president for student affairs and dean of students, adds that University administrators will work with the WSA to further develop guidelines for appropriate fee disbursement, amending them as necessary in accordance with board policy and the most current state of the law.

Media contact: Jeanne Baron, 269 387-8400, jeanne.baron@wmich.edu

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