Clockwise from left, leaders of the University’s Student Bar Association (SBA), Aaron Barker, Tyler Morgan, Summer Carmack, Angie Pancost and Calder Thingvold, discuss the memorandum of understanding (MOU) the SBA and some ASUM executives are trying to pass. The MOU would require law students to pay a different student activity fee than before, and could no longer seek funds from ASUM to make student groups.

Law students could pay $60 more for student activity fees due to a new piece of legislation being considered by the Associated Students of the University of Montana. 

These students are currently receiving funds and services from both ASUM and the Student Bar Association, a student government organization that describes itself as “the organized body of all enrolled students at the University of Montana School of Law,” on its website.

While other UM students pay almost $150 in student activity fees, law students pay just under $90 per year. Despite paying about two-thirds of the fee, law students receive all of the benefits the fee pays for. 

If passed, the agreement would raise the student activity fee for law students enrolled in seven or more credits by about $60 per year. This means that law students would be charged the same total amount as all other students, but 30 percent of the fee would go to the SBA and 70 percent would go to ASUM.

According to the University census reports, there were 224 students enrolled in the law school for fall 2018. This means ASUM would have received $23,520 from law students this year if the legislation were passed, a 75 percent increase. 

One group of students that ASUM and the SBA are hoping to reach are joint-degree students enrolled in the law school. Joint-degree students are seeking both law degrees and another degree. Under the current proposal, these students would have to pay the full ASUM fee plus the full SBA fee. This would result in a nearly $200 student activity fee payment each year.

Under the proposal, law students would also no longer be able to form student groups through ASUM. This is because only a portion of the student activity fee would be paid to ASUM. Student groups can still receive funding through the SBA. 

Both student government organizations fund student groups, host events and address student concerns. But while ASUM advocates on behalf of the student body at large, the SBA only represents law students. 

“For 100 years, the law school has had its own governing body,” SBA President Summer Carmack said. “We can do our own thing around here.”

The proposal would resolve a years-long conflict between ASUM and the SBA over how to fairly divvy up fees.

In 1969, the University Board of Regents decided that law students should not be required to pay the regular student activity fee. This was due to the fact law students are represented by two separate student bodies, something not experienced by other students. 

“Right now, it’s totally unequal,” ASUM President Alex Butler said. “This is probably the furthest along in the talks that we’ve ever come to.”

Earlier last year, the exemption for law students was removed. Executives from the SBA and ASUM met for negotiations last summer and drafted an agreement. 

“I thought that we reached a fair deal,” Carmack said. “They [ASUM] do have strong opinions, and they do have valid points.”

With hopes to end the long-lasting dispute, Carmack and SBA Vice President Tyler Morgan introduced the memorandum to the ASUM Senate in early December, but the Senate thought Carmack and Morgan needed more evidence to show that law students supported the memorandum. The Senate requested that Butler and the SBA gather more data from law students before giving a final ruling.

Butler said there wasn’t much data at the time. This was because the Senate meeting was on short notice and it was the middle of finals week.

“Right now we’re focused on how students are feeling,” Carmack said. Carmack, along with other SBA executives, put together a draft survey to gauge how law students feel about the proposal.

“There’s a lot of uncertainty amongst ASUM,” Butler said. “We’re trying to really gauge how law students feel.”

If the agreement passes, all law students except for those enrolled in a joint-degree program will be ineligible for ASUM student group funding. However, they will still be able to run for Senate and use all other other ASUM services.

If the Senate does not pass the agreement, Carmack said it would be up to the next ASUM administration to approve another agreement. Every accredited law school has a Student Bar Association, she said. “I think [ASUM] wants to honor that 100-year-old tradition.”

There is currently no date scheduled for the final ASUM ruling on the agreement, but it will likely be revisited by ASUM in the next couple months.