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MADISON - Attorney General J.B. Van Hollen today issued an informal opinion concluding that a student government organization at any of the various institutions composing the University of Wisconsin ("UW") System is subject to the requirements of Wisconsin's open meetings law where (1) there exist one or more directives formal or informal that create the student entity and assign it some governmental responsibilities under the student shared governance provisions of section 36.09(5) of the Wisconsin Statutes; and (2) where the student entity takes the form of a committee, council, representative assembly, or similar collective entity with a determinate membership, the members of which act as a body in relation to the assigned governmental responsibilities.
The student shared governance provision in Wisconsin statutes provides that "[t]he students of each institution or campus subject to the responsibilities and powers of the board [of regents], the chancellor and the faculty shall be active participants in the immediate governance of and policy development of such institutions. As such, students shall have the primary responsibility for the formulation and review of policies concerning student life, services and interests." Subject to consultation with the Chancellor and final confirmation of the board, this shared governance power includes, "the disposition of those student fees which constitute substantial support for campus student activities."
The informal opinion notes that committees or other collective bodies created by UW students will be subject to the open meetings law only if it has been assigned a role in institutional governance under section 36.09(5). Student entities that exclusively perform functions outside the scope of institutional governancesuch as some student social, cultural, or recreational organizationsthus are not governmental bodies subject to the open meetings law, even if they are created by a student government association that itself possesses some governmental powers.
The opinion was requested by Jonathan Anderson, Editor in Chief of the UW-Milwaukee Post, and by Jesse Manser and Matt Schulz, Producers of UW-Milwaukee Panther Vision.
Under the open meetings law, the Attorney General may provide opinions as to the open meetings law's applicability to any person. Advice often takes the form of correspondence from the Assistant Attorneys General, but the Attorney General may issue formal or informal opinions.