The Cost of Loving Ain’t High


By: Rel Ryann


f you’re living the broke student life at the University of Toronto or anywhere else, then you know what it’s like to save up your loonies. Maybe not half a loonie, though. You’re a good person; you use your loose change to tip your barista, and besides, you’ve got standards. Still, you deserve to know where every cent of your money goes.

The Big Picture

Every semester, 50 cents of your tuition fee is set aside to fund a campus volunteer group providing undergraduate research opportunities, free workshops and various advocacy initiatives to students on campus and citizens across the GTA. They’re the Ontario Public Interest Research Group (OPIRG), a province-wide network of campus groups with a mandate for action, education and research on environmental and social justice issues.

OPIRG recruits an indefinite number of UTSG students into its various research and volunteer positions every year, and their work benefits marginalized groups both locally and abroad. One-hundred per cent of your 50 cents per semester goes towards funding these community projects and keeping their (literally only two) paid staff members fed. Feels pretty great to give back, eh?

But hey, it’s your money! OPIRG believes that you should get to decide where your 50 cents goes. That’s why you can opt out of the fee via the University of Toronto Students’ Union (UTSU) website or by visiting OPIRG’s office on campus at the start of every semester.

So, pay 50 cents to fund community projects, or don’t. Sounds pretty fair, right? Apparently not. A group of UTSG students are now petitioning the UTSU to defund OPIRG by removing the 50 cent levy from tuition fees all together. But why would students want to defund a volunteer group, and why are they actively choosing to remain anonymous?

The Details

The reasons for the defunding are as of now still unknown. Even now with the vote taking place next month, the petitioners protesting OPIRG’s funding have not made themselves public. A representative from OPIRG has explained that the group’s knowledge of the petitions has only come from their correspondence with the UTSU. Now that the petition has since received the necessary 250 signatures for a referendum, the vote has been scheduled to occur from Monday, November 20 to Wednesday, November 22.

This is not the first time that OPIRG has faced such a situation. In 2012, the Graduate Students’ Union voted unsuccessfully on whether or not to remove OPIRG’s levy from graduate students. However, this is the first time that the UTSU has had to call a vote to decide the removal of the levy from undergraduate students. Defunding threats have arisen due to criticism of the group’s alleged “radical left-wing views” due to their past support of Students Against Israeli Apartheid and the Communist Student Research Group.

The Reaction

Souzan Mirza, a board member of OPIRG-Toronto, expressed her disapproval with the petition: “OPIRG’s programming is widely enjoyed by students across campus, and the 50-cent levy we receive from UTSU members is optional. So we were surprised to hear that a small group of students wants to organize a referendum outside of an election period, rather than simply opting out of the levy or raising concerns with us.”

Mirza also conveyed her concern regarding the change to the Charter for Referenda in Spring of this year, which resulted in petitions regarding student groups needing only 250 signatures, as opposed to 5,000. The reduction in the number of signatures needed means that referendum questions can be posed to the entire UTSU membership with support from less than just two per cent of members.

According to Mirza, defunding OPIRG “will impact the countless students who enjoy our programming, volunteer opportunities and rely on our services throughout the year. OPIRG supports equity and anti-oppression initiatives on campus, and defunding [OPIRG] will impact already-marginalized students and organizations on campus.”

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