Comment By Sean Wetselaar
It’s no secret that the Ryerson Students’ Union is funded almost entirely by student fees, which pay for everything from events on campus to full-time employee salaries.
However, this relationship with students’ wallets has some students unsure of how their money is being spent.
In an article in the National Post, fourth-year politics and governance student Eitan Gilboord expressed his dissatisfaction with the fact that every student must pay a fee of $117.65 on average to the RSU.
His displeasure stems from the RSU’s tendency to take stands on polarizing political issues, including its involvement in Isreali Apartheid Week. The RSU recently rejoined the Canadian Peace Alliance, an umbrella group of social movements which wishes to dissolve the military, and has a tendency to take other controversial political stances.
Recently, at the University of Toronto (U of T), student leaders at Trinity, Victoria, and St. Michael’s colleges, as well as the Engineering Society, unanimously voted in favour of a referendum to secede from financial connections with the University of Toronto Student Union (UTSU). If successful, the colleges claim they would be able to save their members tens of thousands of dollars in student fees while providing the same services as the UTSU.
The issue Gilboord raises needs to be addressed on two levels – should students have an option to opt out of RSU fees and should the RSU continue to participate in such controversial political campaigns? The question of opting out is a difficult issue to address.
It’s true that Ryerson does not have an option to opt out of specific levy fees paid to student groups, unlike U of T, but it’s also true that the RSU does provide a number of services to students. Frosh Week, the Parade and Picnic and pub nights are all brought to you by RSU fees. And, full disclosure, a portion of The Eyeopener is funded by RSU fees paid by Ryerson students.
It’s also worth noting that Ryerson students are notoriously apathetic.
Our voter turnout in RSU elections this year was a meagre 11 per cent, and the incoming RSU elective all but swept the elections without competition. If students feel strongly about how their money is spent, then they should get involved in the process before planning methods of financial secession.
If Ryerson students were to find themselves in a conflict with the RSU on a scale similar to that of U of T, should an option to opt out be created? Absolutely. But the backdrop for such a big discussion is a campus far more motivated than ours.
With regards to the RSU’s many political actions, I think it’s unreasonable to suggest that they should be forced to back down from all their campaigns.
The RSU is a fundamentally political organization, and they will continue to engage in political discussions.
It is perpetually involved in some sort of political lobbying, and often interacts with provincial and federal politics.
But by the same token, dissenting voices need to be heard within the RSU, and be taken seriously. If students like Gilboord have a real issue with Israeli Apartheid Week, they should take it to the RSU and ask them to back down. It’s the RSU’s job to represent students, and students have a right (and some might argue, a responsibility) to voice their concerns.
And it’s important that students who don’t agree with the directions the RSU is taking start to do exactly that. Because, frankly, Ryerson students have a long way to go before becoming politically involved enough for a healthy discussion around opting out of fees can even be contemplated.