Commemorative “SA Sedition Act” Tee Shirts!

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You may have noticed a pair of new tee shirts at my Zazzle store. Here are the verbatim product descriptions:

“I Wrote the SA Sedition Act” Tee Shirt
Note: The product page was immediately deactivated by Zazzle due to a copyright claim; clicking the above link now redirects to replacement designs.

Product description:

Okay, maybe I’m the only one who did, but the rest of the world won’t know any better when you wear this tee shirt! Celebrate the outer reaches of shared governance authority to commemorate the fifth anniversary of the passage of the Student Association Sedition Act on February 10, 2008. Only $20 for such a rare, unique item! (Actual price will vary depending on options such as color and cut.)

“I Passed the SA Sedition Act” Tee Shirt
Note: The product page above remains permitted by Zazzle despite containing precisely the same logo used in the original “I Wrote…” tee shirt from the deactivated page.

Product description:

You remember the shocked expressions on the faces of audience members and the student newspaper articles which followed when you voted 10-7-0 to approve the Student Association Sedition Act. Wear this tee shirt with pride and nostalgia! Only $20 for such a rare, unique item! (Actual price will vary depending on options such as color and cut.)

So what is the SA Sedition Act? Read on to find out!

Introduction

Broadly defined, a sedition act is any bill limiting speech and other expressions about a governmental body and/or its leader(s). The Student Association (student government) at the University of Wisconsin – Milwaukee did, in fact, pass a sedition act in its legislative chamber. The bill would have enabled the student president to not only proclaim cease-and-desist orders against communicators of malevolent or just plain incorrect information about the student government but also to “pursue civil relief” or go to court over damages to the reputation of the student government and/or its individual members. To the relief of campus journalists, the student president at the time vetoed it when I was out of town.

This attempted speech limitation was a counter strike against rumors printed in The UWM Post in January 2008 about an unofficial “splinter” faction within SA whose members were executive board members of an unaffiliated registered student organization, Student for Responsible Government (SRG). The allegation was those SRG members were controlling the SA agenda “behind the scenes” with against-the-rules meetings of a “walking quorum” or veto-sized quantity of SA officials outside public meetings to decide voting bloc agreements.

Research and Drafting

Although not involved in SRG or even friends with members, I inferred from the rumors article and from the contrarian op-eds from SRG officials that an anti-Post sentiment had formed and that it signified a chance to test the waters for authoritarian legislation. Considering no one in SRG called for speech limitations until after my proposal, I suppose one could say The UWM Post had misplaced its concern!

During the first week of February 2008, I set to work crafting the SA Sedition Act to reflect the farthest-reaching powers made possible by the bounds of shared governance in legalese gleaned from studies of various injunctions and statutes involving defamation. Thus, my bill blended the tradition of the 1798 and 1918 U.S. federal Sedition Acts with the local flavor of the University of Wisconsin shared governance framework.

To preemptively address those self-proclaimed “shared governance policy wonks” trawling the Internet for tasty tidbits to sate their policy cravings: yes, it is Wisconsin statute 36.09(5) which expressly reserves a student voting mechanism within university affairs. This more or less means the students — or at least their student government officials — determine policies of Student Life and influence (although not necessarily determine) non-Student Affairs policies such as academic curricula (largely determined by accrediting bodies and the latest research trends) and non-academic punishment policy (largely determined by conformance to federal, state, and local laws as well as community standards).

Proposal and Legislative Passage

Once satisfied with my final draft of the bill, I emailed a copy to the Senate roster. It garnered enough sponsors to mandate inclusion on the agenda of our next meeting. Despite objections from ACLU leaders, Marquette university law professors, the student president, and even the speaker (presiding officer) of the chamber, I led the Student Association (SA) Senate at UW-Milwaukee in approving the SA Sedition Act by 10 ayes to 7 nays and no abstentions (refusals to vote), therefore contingently adopting a policy of post facto censorship of not just student media outlets but also anyone who expressed information deleterious to the SA.

Veto

As mentioned earlier, only the student legislature passed the SA Sedition Act. The student president vetoed the bill in the same week that a bevy of articles and op-eds about the matter. While I dutifully represented UW-Milwaukee at the February 2008 United Council general assembly the following weekend, the Senate held an emergency meeting at which it upheld the veto during an override session.

Nonetheless, the fact remains that I had turned the tide in favor of a unique bill which aligned historical innovations with the zeitgeist of internal SA sentiment. Many were concerned that such a bill passed any stage at all of the approval process, although it is one of my prouder moments of persuasion in an organization filled with highly nuanced political relations and complex personalities.

Aftermath

While SRG ultimately became little more than a prototype for another registered student organization called Students United for Change (SUFC, with an inappropriately capitalized “For” in the registration papers so that it didn’t spell “SUC”), the dormant organization served its role as a good excuse to propose such a sedition act. SUFC fielded candidates for its Student Association election ticket and went on to win all contested seats while SRG remained inactive and lapsed out of registration.

That year’s editor of The UWM Post and his successor established a tight working relationship with me as a de facto information liaison, giving rise to articles which featured me prominently and ultimately afforded as many quotation opportunities among UWM Post stories as during my 20-bill legislation-writing streak in the spring 2006 semester.

Five years later, neither SUFC nor SRG exist: several victorious successor parties came and went, not to mention myriad also-rans with their own acronyms and attempts at originality. SA is now the “Student Association of Milwaukee,” or S.A.M. (periods and all) due to university administrators finally acquiescing to the idea that perhaps “Student Association at UW-Milwaukee” made the SA sound like just another student organization without special powers.

The UWM Post is on the verge of fiscal insolvency, though not bankruptcy — saved from the latter fate only because a student organization cannot technically go bankrupt due to being forbidden from incurring debt beyond its amount of operating cash. The electoral politics of student officials are as thrilling as ever — some would say “scandalous,” although I feel that is a rather strong word!

My personal challenge is to extend this persuasion into exploiting leveraging other ripe opportunities to influence an organization. In the meantime, here’s to celebrating the bounds of shared governance as we head into another student government election season at campuses throughout the University of Wisconsin System.

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The Sedition Act, Student Association, Student Government, Student Senate, libel and slander, slander and libel, student legislation, legislative veto, limits of Student Affairs, free speech