The UW System Board of Regents has challenged the state Supreme Court to reconsider their decision to reverse the harassment injunction against Jeffrey Decker, a former student of the University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point.
Decker, a 2005 UWSP graduate, re-enrolled to the university in 2010 to challenge the university’s management of segregated fees. He contends that these fees are improperly regulated by UW System officials and not allocated to students as they should be by law.
“I ask hard questions about what they’re going to do to clean up corruption,” Decker said, who claims that he is working to spark “a critical mass movement.”
However, Decker was suspended later that year after a tense meeting with Chancellor Bernie Patterson, in which he allegedly threatened to interfere with a university function, and at one point stabbed a stack of papers with a pen.
“He’s the big boss, and he’s not a nice man. He wants to rip you off and he wants the cops to arrest anyone who opposes him,” Decker said in reference to Patterson in the spring of 2011.
Though barred from all UW property, Decker continued to protest on campuses across the state throughout 2011, engaging in disruptive behavior and resisting arrest on multiple occasions. As such, the UW Board of Regents sought a harassment injunction against Decker, which was eventually issued by Dane County Circuit Judge John Markson on the grounds that Decker’s behavior served “no legitimate purpose.”
Mark Nook, Senior Vice President for Academic and Student Affairs within the UW System, maintained that Decker’s assertions are simply not accurate.
“I’ve spent two years working with student representatives across the state and I find them incredibly engaged in how segregated fees are distributed on their campuses,” Nook said.
UWSP’s Vice Chancellor of Student Affairs Al Thompson declined to comment on the topic, explaining that it is the general practice of the UW System to not publicly discuss matters that are before the courts.
Still, it would seem that not all are convinced of the illegitimacy of Decker’s claims. This past January the state Court of Appeals overturned the injunction, citing that legitimate protests of government policy are protected by law.
“If the Dane County Circuit Court’s decision is upheld, Jeffrey Decker would be subject to criminal penalties for engaging in protest, or simply setting foot on any University of Wisconsin campus,” said an American Civil Liberties Union lawyer operating out of Madison.
“Conduct otherwise protected by the First Amendment, like picketing before the Chancellor’s office or petitioning state policymakers on matters of public concern, would be criminalized.”
Decker’s attorney, Gary Grass of Milwaukee, shared a similar outlook, arguing that his client’s civil disobedience was merely part of an attempt to illustrate university corruption to the public.
Despite protests like these, however, UW-representatives have held their ground, maintaining that more focus should be put on Decker’s conduct rather than his speech and alleged protest.
“Decker does not have an absolute right to engage in such a petition or protest wherever, whenever and in whatever manner he chooses,” said Attorney General J.B. Van Hollen for the Board of Regents.
Justices are scheduled to begin hearing oral arguments on Oct. 15.