Two Michigan State students claim in a federal lawsuit that their former professor forced them and their classmates to fund her personal political group which supported progressive organizations they say contradict their religious values.
The second-year students, Nathan Barbieri and Nolan Radomski, are suing their instructor Amy Wisner and other university officials for first-amendment violations after Wisner allegedly forced her roughly 600 students to pay a $99 membership fee to “The Rebellion Community” as part of her class requirements during the spring 2023 semester.
Barbieri and Radomski soon discovered that Wisner was the creator and controller of The Rebellion Community and alleged she used the estimated $60,000 collected from them and their peers to fund groups like Planned Parenthood which go against their anti-abortion beliefs, according to the 88-page complaint filed last week.
“Defendant Wisner controlled The Rebellion Community and used the membership fees to finance her own political advocacy and to support external groups—including Planned Parenthood—that engage in political speech that is antithetical to the Plaintiffs’ deeply held beliefs,” the document states.
The required course fee gave the student’s access to a private online portal available through the group’s website but the students said the portal was unnecessary and duplicative because Michigan State University already has an online platform for course material at no extra cost to students.
Wisner said the membership fees were used to pay for use of the technology and to pay guest speakers, educators and facilitators in a disclosure message on the site.
“Your professor does not receive any financial compensation from your membership fees as that would be a conflict of interest,” the disclosure read, according to the suit.
However, on her own Facebook page, Wisner posted that membership fees to The Rebellion Community, which is open to all, are donated to Planned Parenthood.
“The Rebellion community is a safe place to coordinate our efforts to burn everything to the fucking group,” Wisner wrote in the post, according to the complaint. “100% of membership fees are donated to Planned Parenthood.”
According to the lawsuit, the total 1,157-person membership of The Rebellion Community “is almost completely accounted for by the students” in both the spring 2023 and fall 2022 sections of Wisner’s Business Communication class — which is a required course for all undergraduates pursuing a business degree.
The students also alleged that Wisner used revenue generated from her students’ membership fees to purchase an RV which she was planning to use for a cross-country road trip with her two kids and three pets “to co-create communities of rebels committed to doing the work together.”
Following student complaints, Michigan State University placed Wisner on leave and found a replacement professor to instruct students for the remainder of the semester, according to a March 1 email to students included in the complaint.
The school also refunded students for their Rebellion Community membership because the platform was “no longer required for the course.”
Barbieri and Radomski, however, said the refund came from the school and that Wisner still has the money she collected from students and is using it “to tour the country in an RV … and engage in policy advocacy that [they] do not wish to support.”
The MSU students want Wisner to refund them herself and have requested she provide a full accounting of how their membership fees were used.
Both students are represented by lawyers with the Alliance Defending Freedom, a law firm that is “committed to protecting religious freedom, free speech, the sanctity of life, marriage and family, and parental rights,” according to its website.
“University professors can’t force students to finance and support political advocacy groups that express messages they disagree with. Nathan and Nolan simply want to get a business degree without being compelled to pay membership fees that will be donated to Planned Parenthood or support speech that directly contradicts their religious beliefs,” said Alliance Defending Freedom Legal Counsel Logan Spena.
Even before the lawsuit, students denounced Wisner’s required fee, with one calling her “a scam artist,” according to student reviews on the anonymous Rate My Professor site.
“Amy Wisner simply is a scam artist,” the student wrote in an April review. “She scammed her students into purchasing a subscription to her website the Rebellion, and put all our course content on it. It was $99. Fast forward a few weeks into the semester Amy Wisner is now fired despite what it says on her LinkedIn profile. We did get a refund from the university for the subscription lol.”
On April 7, Wisner wrote that she had been fired for “insubordination” because the university “did not want me and my guest lecturers to teach diversity, equity, and inclusion to students in the core business communications class” in a Facebook post.
A university spokesperson confirmed that Wisner is no longer employed at MSU but declined to comment on the lawsuit when reached by the Lansing State Journal.