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Michigan State Professor Forces Undergrads to Fund Leftist Groups

Students shouldn’t have to wonder whether they’re being defrauded into supporting political causes.
Lathan Watts
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College class with students raising hands

Imagine the reaction if a college professor created an additional course requirement that each student pay a subscription fee to an online “community” secretly controlled by the professor, who donated every dollar to pro-life advocacy organizations. One would expect student protests, alumni withholding support for the university unless the professor was fired, counselors brought in to help students cope with their unwitting support for a cause they vehemently oppose, wall-to-wall media coverage, and perhaps even the local district attorney announcing a criminal investigation for fraud.

This scenario did play out at a well-known university, but with one significant difference that explains why it’s receiving so little national attention. Instead of donating to causes on the political right, the professor donated the funds to left-wing causes, including Planned Parenthood.

Two college students are suing over the matter. Their attorneys with Alliance Defending Freedom filed the lawsuit against Michigan State University officials for failing to correct their policies and recover student fees used to advance political messages that the officials favor and that conflict with the deeply held beliefs of the students. The case, Barbieri v. Jeitschko, is currently in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Michigan, Southern Division.

Amy Wisner, a professor of marketing at MSU’s Broad College of Business, operating under the guidance and approval of the business college’s interim dean, compelled each of her nearly 600 students in the spring semester to pay a $99 membership fee to join an outside leftist political-advocacy organization she controlled. She then donated the proceeds of those fees to external groups — including Planned Parenthood — that engage in political advocacy that is antithetical to the sincerely held religious beliefs of students Nathan Barbieri and Nolan Radomski.

The lawsuit explains that Wisner designed her course to promote her political views. On her syllabus under “course requirements,” she required students to purchase “The Rebellion Community membership.” As the syllabus explained, “The Rebellion Community . . . is a global social learning community with a private space dedicated to this course.” Once students paid the $99 subscription fee online, they saw a statement that said:

Your membership fees are used to (1) pay for use of the technology and (2) pay guest speakers, educators, and facilitators. Your professor does not receive any financial compensation from your membership fees as that would be a conflict of interest.

The lawsuit notes, however, that Wisner personally controlled the group and was using the substantial funds she extracted — nearly $60,000 — to engage in political speech and donate to advocacy groups that directly conflict with the religious beliefs of Barbieri and Radomski. For example, in a Facebook post, Wisner linked to a Facebook page associated with “The Rebellion Community” and wrote, “The Rebellion community is a safe place to coordinate our efforts to burn everything to the f***ing ground.” Wisner’s post also said, “100% of membership fees are donated to Planned Parenthood,” though elsewhere she stated that “Proceeds of The Rebellion Community membership fees are donated to organizations fighting systemic oppression.”

Students pursuing a college degree shouldn’t have to wonder whether they are being defrauded into supporting political causes. By authorizing professors to force students to support speech antithetical to their deepest values and faith, Michigan State officials have violated the First Amendment and federal civil-rights laws.

Many American universities have abandoned the once widely accepted notion that higher education is the pursuit of knowledge and that civil discourse is pivotal to a free society, but this case highlights a disturbing new development. At Michigan State, the cultural decline in academia has reached new depths, moving beyond indoctrination to coerced activism. And the yawns from our nation’s media are just as telling.

Lathan Watts, VP of Public Affairs
Lathan Watts
VP of Public Affairs
Lathan Watts serves as VP of Public Affairs at Alliance Defending Freedom