An important referendum
Last year, a rather innocuous petition put out by the Fine Arts Students Association (FASA) began circulating around campus. The question the petition posed was rather simple: would you, the undersigned, support a fee of twenty-five cents per student to help cover the costs of theatre productions at the university to keep them free for students? FASA has since secured the necessary number of signatures necessary to hold an official referendum this fall, and what was once a harmless little hypothetical question now has the potential to set a dangerous precedent, not only at the University of Regina, but potentially in universities across Canada.
The referendum suggests an increase of twenty-five cents to student fees. This pittance is not, however, the heart of the issue. Historically speaking, the theatre department has been one of the first to face departmental cutbacks over the past decade or so, and many students use these productions as a part of their final evaluation. It is also not a far leap to assume that, with the funding cuts to universities promised by the Harper government, the Fine Arts’ already razor-thin budget will be reduced to nothing.
The crux of the referendum is that students are being asked to foot the bill of an underfunded department. The university has a responsibility to the students who choose to attend their institution to provide their faculty with the money sufficient for them to finish their degree programs. The fact that the university has turned to the student’s union to essentially panhandle for supplementary funds where they have been intentionally withheld is ludicrous.
Jesse Miller, a second-year arts education student said, “I agree that we should fund the arts. I have theatre friends, and I think it’s just stupid that when budget cuts come, the fine arts are always the first to face them.”
"If indeed this motion is passed, and the quarter levy is placed on students, this opens a Pandora’s Box that the administration of this university is unlikely ready to face."
What is most troubling about an already disconcerting situation is that there seems to be no other alternative. If no action had been taken by the student’s union, the theatre department would have had no choice but to charge students to partake in university productions. These new costs would inevitably have deterred the students who would ordinarily come to these shows and, in time, it could have meant the death of the theatre department as we know it.
If indeed this motion is passed, and the quarter levy is placed on students, this opens a Pandora’s Box that the administration of this university is unlikely ready to face. This could very well be the first step in allowing every other faculty that feels hard done by to plead to the university for more funding. Not only could this trend spread like wildfire across campus, but it a successful ruling in this situation could set the standard for normative behaviour on campuses across the country.
Whether these concerns are valid or not yet remains to be determined; however, if the results of the petition are indicative of impending judgements, then things are about to change at the University of Regina. Financial business is going to be handled very differently indeed, and it is very unlikely that such matters will ever be looked at the same way again.