Friday, September 29, 2023

Two business students sue former professor, MSU administrators over required subscription

May 23, 2023
Minskoff Pavilion, new building of MSU College of Business, photographed on July 25.
Minskoff Pavilion, new building of MSU College of Business, photographed on July 25. —
Photo by Junyao Li | The State News

MSU Eli Broad College of Business sophomores Nolan Radomski and Nathan Barbieri filed a lawsuit against former professor Amy Wisner last week alleging that a $99 subscription they were required to purchase as a course material violated their religious beliefs

The students were required to subscribe to Wisner's organization, "The Rebellion." Wisner then allegedly used proceeds earned from the subscriptions to support groups that Radomski and Barbieri are opposed to, such as Planned Parenthood.

Radomski and Barbieri are being represented by Alliance Defending Freedom, or ADF, a conservative legal advocacy organization that has previously sought to curtail abortion and LGBTQ rights. According to their website, their objective is to “protect religious freedom, freedom of speech, the sanctity of life, parental rights and marriage and family.”

"Plaintiffs were aghast to learn that the fees they were compelled to pay as membership fees would be donated to Planned Parenthood," according to the lawsuit. "Plaintiffs believe that Defendant Wisner has forced them to materially support the homicide of innocent children."

"University professors can't force students to finance and support political advocacy groups that express messages they disagree with," Legal Counsel Logan Spena, who is representing the two students, said in a press release Monday.

Wisner taught MKT 250, “Business Communication,” which is a required course for students in the business college. According to the lawsuit, Wisner usually took a “conventional approach” teaching the course.

However, after giving a presentation about "her life’s journey from conformity to rebellion" at the 2021 TEDxMSU conference, Wisner founded "The Rebellion." She then began requiring the course fees in the fall 2022 semester, according to the lawsuit.

The Rebellion's website describes Wisner as "audacious and unapologetic in her quest to smash oppressive systems" and says "we can all agree" that "the patriarchy needs to be cancelled."

"Plaintiffs believe that God’s design for marriage, sexuality, and family (which Defendant Wisner would imprecisely lump into the concept of “patriarchy”) is good for both men and women and they oppose efforts to ‘smash’ this order," the lawsuit said.

The required subscriptions became a lightning rod for controversy in February, when another conservative advocacy group, Young America's Foundation, published a blog post calling Wisner a "leftist professor" and vowing to work with several of Wisner's students to "rectify this scandalous situation and secure refunds for all of her students."

Barbieri and Radomski took Wisner's class in the spring 2023 semester. The lawsuit alleges that approximately 600 students were charged the fee that semester. And while a refund was issued to students, it came from the college's funds rather than from Wisner personally.

The suit filed Monday seeks an injunction against Wisner to block any further collection of membership fees, monetary damages and attorney fees from Wisner and updated university policies on professors requiring the purchase of course materials.

Interim Provost Thomas Jeitschko and Interim Dean of the Eli Broad College of Business Judith Whipple were also named defendants in the lawsuit, which argues that they failed to take proper actions to make future students immune to unauthorized course fees.

“Defendant Wisner’s MKT 250 Spring 2023 Syllabus was promulgated under the authority Defendant Wisner possessed through the Code of Teaching Responsibility,” the lawsuit said.

“All Defendants had the opportunity, the authority, and the duty to ensure that the MKT 250 Spring 2023 Syllabus did not violate the constitutional rights of any student, including Plaintiffs, and all Defendants failed to execute their duty.”

MSU’s Code of Teaching Responsibility grants instructors the authority to determine which materials are required but also includes the authority to specify which materials are to be purchased, according to the suit.

Wisner did not respond to requests for comment at the time of publishing.

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