The fallout of optional fees for Ontario student groups - 2019-10-03
"We have a government that's really focused on free speech," says Eric Chappell, president of the Students' General Association at Laurentian University. "But all the organizations on campus that hold the university accountable—and that hold me accountable—have just been completely gutted. I think that's a real concern."
Chappell is referring to the Student Choice Initiative (SCI), an Ontario government policy that allows university and college students to opt out of paying certain non-tuition or auxiliary fees. Under the policy, institutions are required to designate these fees, some of which support student organizations and clubs, as essential or non-essential, and give students the choice not to pay fees in the latter category. Schools must follow a framework set forth by the government when determining which fees are compulsory—for instance, they must deem fees that support athletics and recreation, health and counselling, and campus safety programs as essential. Fees that do not fall under these classifications—such as those that support student-run clubs and services like campus newspapers, radio stations, sexual diversity offices and food banks, as well as student unions' operational costs—must be made optional. Merrillee Fullerton, who was Ontario's minister of training, colleges, and universities until this past June, has argued that students should have freedom of choice over what they fund.
The logistics of implementing the policy are up to each school, so that the fallout being experienced by student organizations has been unevenly distributed. A few factors seem to play a critical role in determining how the policy is affecting organizations' bottom lines. One is the length of time students have in which to say whether or not they will pay the non-essential fees. Another is how the school sets up the choice. At some institutions, the default is that students pay the fees and have to take action to do otherwise. At others, students are asked to select which fees they will pay as part of course registration.