Voting no to more fees and less action

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The least they could do is have their logo in the same colours as the school they’re trying to represent. URSU manipulated by Jeremy Davis/Kate Thiessen

URSU has proposed two new fees that your voice needs to be heard about

On March 29 and 30, students at the University of Regina will be asked two questions. First, “Do you support the creation of and membership in the Saskatchewan Provincial Students Union [SPSU], to advocate for the interest of students at the provincial level, for $2.5 per semester indexed to CPI?” Second, “Do you support a $1.5 dollar (sic) per credit per semester fee indexed to CPI to provided (sic) Legal Advocacy and Advocacy services to students through the funding of the Regina Student Legal Advocacy Centre [SLAC]?” To these questions, students at the University of Regina should answer “no.”

            My reasoning should be prefaced with a commendation. The University of Regina Students’ Union (URSU) chose to send these decisions to an open vote and gave advance notice of the referendum. This allows voters to contemplate the consequences and form an opinion on whether a “yes” vote would be in their interests. What follows is exactly that.

            Regarding the “creation of and membership in the Saskatchewan Provincial Students Union,” voting in favour would be a betrayal of our legacy as a university and a contravention of our present interests. Professor Emeritus of History James Pitsula has documented the events that culminated with the independence of the University of Saskatchewan Regina Campus as the University of Regina. Participants in the Student Representative Council (SRC), contributors to the Carillon, and activist students figured prominently into this process.

The concerns of these organizations and individuals grew out of an identity defined in relation to the main campus of the University of Saskatchewan. While the campus in Saskatoon cultivated an environment of professionals, the Regina campus became a hotbed for liberal arts radicals and activists. It is not by accident that Fred Hampton spoke at Regina instead of Saskatoon. The student body of the Regina campus resisted the hegemony of the University of Saskatchewan under the activism of a robust SRC. The SRC, along with the Carillon, succeeded in gaining student control over the student paper and union. This SRC also succeeded, under the leadership of President Ralph Smith, in protecting the interests of its charges against attempts to restrict academic freedom by Ross Thatcher.

URSU has argued that SPSU would be able to advocate for the interests of its student bodies with the provincial government. Yet, how can the student body at the University of Regina be certain that our interests will not be subordinated to the interests of the much larger student body at the University of Saskatchewan? If such a process does occur – and since the terms of this union have not been delineated, we have no good reason to believe it will not – the legacy of our forebearers will be betrayed. URSU has further declared that it desires to revive the tradition of student activism that has defined the University of Regina.

I could not be more in support of this initiative. A perfect opportunity to do so would be to assume the mantle from Ralph Smith by advocating on behalf of the student body independently. It would also be prudent for URSU to come to appreciate the value of student fees to the same level that the SRC of Regina Campus did. Should URSU accomplish this, they would understand the undue burden that $37.50 a semester places on a student already paying more than $3,800 in total fees. In effect, entry into SPSU could force many students into a more precarious financial situation – and for what, the betrayal of their identity and the subordination of their interests?

A majority of “yes” votes for the creation of SLAC would further aggravate the financial pressure of students – even if it is a sound idea in theory. In addition to financial strain, students should be wary of whether SLAC would be an effective use of their money. Let us consider the purpose of SLAC and the funding scheme proposed by URSU. In its informational package on SLAC, URSU argues that SLAC will aid students with “tenant issues, work issues, immigration and permit issues, and in terms of academic advocacy.” It should be safe to assume that students taking advantage of SLAC are in a financial situation that prevents them from acquiring legal aid independently.

The funding scheme for URSU proposes a fee of $1.50 per semester adjusted to CPI. Students paying the highest fee would be those taking 15 credit hours in a fall or winter semester; an additional $22.50 which becomes $60.00 if SPSU is created. There may be two types of students in this predicament: those who are financially stable enough to secure legal aid independently, for whom SLAC would become a body which would serve as a drain on their resources with no benefit, and those who are under financial pressure to take 15 credit hours to earn their degree in a reasonable amount of time, for whom SLAC would make meeting tuition payment dates even more difficult while only marginally improving their access to legal aid. Even if SLAC were to provide legal aid to this lattermost group at the cost of making independent legal aid impossible, we must vote “no.” Solutions that perpetuate the issues which they are meant to solve are not solutions at all.

At the risk of alienating my readership who may oppose the politics of Pierre Elliott Trudeau, I find it helpful to recall his words in Federalism and the French Canadians: “Men do not exist for states: states are created to make it easier for men to attain some of their common objectives.” For our purposes, we need only to substitute “men” with “students” and “states” with “students’ unions,” and consider whether SPSU and SLAC uphold such an ideal. If the answer is “no,” we should vote accordingly on March 29 and 30.

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