Admin shakes down students for rec fee
Students pay for budget shortfall
Although it’s been nearly a year of dramatically reduced services at the University of Regina, students aren’t seeing a reduction in fees, nor is the administration providing any clarity about how they’ve decided to administer fees in the winter semester. Of particular concern is the university’s decision to charge the standard Recreation and Athletic fee despite the fact that access to facilities has been extremely restricted. Students who want to use the gym or aquatic centre must book space in advance and are restricted in what equipment is available. They are allowed one one-hour time slot per day, subject to availability (at the time of writing most days only had one time spot available at a fixed time), and for users of the fitness centre, that one hour is actually 45 minutes, since the final 15 minutes are reserved for cleaning and sanitizing the equipment. A survey of 752 students conducted by URSU found that 92 per cent didn’t feel that the fee, or the administrations reasoning for it, was justified.
According to URSU’s Vice President of External Affairs, Amir Said, the students’ union has written three letters, one which included the results of URSU’s survey, raising concerns about the fee to Dr. Harold Reimer, the Dean of the Faculty of Kinesiology and Health Studies, all of which “didn’t receive a proper response,” according to Said. (Reimer told the Carillon that the department had responded to Khan’s letters by “reiterat[ing] the university’s position” on the fee.) A fourth letter was sent on January 19, which Reimer said is awaiting response pending the results of a meeting between URSU and the university executive this week.
In an URSU meeting on January 18, the subject of the recreation and athletic fee was raised. URSU general manager Carl Fils told the meeting that the students’ union has proposed options to the university, but that those proposals were “falling on deaf ears.” Possible alternatives could be making the fee opt-out (which it should be anyway, since many students, including some disabled students, couldn’t use the facilities even if they wanted to) or reducing the amount to reflect the reduced services, like the University of Saskatchewan has done. Part of the reason that the university is so committed to charging for rec and athletics is because they missed out on roughly $1.2 million in fees last year due to campus closures related to the pandemic. “They need to make that money back that they lost,” Said told the meeting. As the Carillon has pointed out many (many) times before, the university’s decision to rely on students to fund the maintenance and upkeep of a public institution is a reflection of how little interest the province has in covering post-secondary education. At the very least, any pandemic-related budget shortfalls should be made up by the provincial government and not students, many of whom are suffering disproportionately from lost income and employment opportunities.
Some of the concern around the fee has been a lack of communication from the administration and the fact that it’s apparently being charged to students who would not, even under ordinary, non-pandemic circumstances, be charged a recreation and athletics fee. This includes students, like some social work students, who attend satellite campuses like the one in Saskatoon. Some students have reported that they were charged the fee and have been unable to get a response from the administration about it. Other students say that when they re-enrolled in the same class as a distance education student, the fee was removed. Others say that they tried to re-enroll as a distance education student, but found that the distance education spots were filled (although there were still open spaces in the class) and they could therefore not remove the fee. Both RPIRG and the Saskatoon Social Work Students Society have been trying to get responses from the administration, both by direct contact and via social media, but they have so far been unsuccessful.
URSU meets with the university executive on January 26 (after this story was filed) so there remains the possibility that the administration will formally and clearly communicate with students about the fee, as well as respond the concerns raised by distance students, although it’s difficult to see any scenario where U of R students have enough bargaining power to pressure the admin to walk back the fee. The difficulty URSU has had in getting an adequate response from the administration is troubling. Their fallback methods of communicating with the administration are clearly not working, something Said noted when he said the union would have to “start thinking outside the box.” This will mean that executives will have to think less about maintaining collegial relationships with administrators, who are adversaries, and think more about how they can build capacity and actually organize the student body.
While this moment in time, in which the inequities of our society are most clear and the argument for universal post-secondary education should be obvious, seems like an ideal time for the students’ union to organize a resistance to the neoliberalism that is damaging our university and creating long-term financial hardships for many, it’s also a time when people’s resources are most depleted and their ability to fight back is compromised by the traumas of the past 11 months. The administration seems to recognize how much students’ ability to resist has been reduced and are exploiting this opportunity to charge predatory fees that can’t be rationalized under any humane system. URSU needs to engage more with other unions to build collective power, because right now, the administration holds all the cards.