The Student Fee Restructure Proposal is one of the referenda included in this week’s AMS elections. The proposal sorts student fees into two categories: “Exempt” (which will continue indefinitely) and “Renewal” (which will be put up for a re-vote every three years).
This means that a number of student clubs would be forced to renew their funding through individual referenda every three years. As many of these fees were established through referendum campaigns, such fees can be removed by a student-organized referendum at any time, and three of the eleven “Renewal” fees can be opted out of anyway.
If passed, this policy would devastate every club affected. These clubs and programs rely on student fees for a large portion of their budgets, and organizing referenda can be hard work — it takes weeks of canvassing for hours at a time to get barely enough signatures. Groups like the Pride Collective and the Social Justice Centre, which provide vital services for UBC’s most marginalized students, would lose key funding. It would also hurt culture and performance clubs, like the Blank Vinyl Project, the UBC Debate Society, and Athletics and Intramurals who rely on student fees to run high-cost events which provide unique benefits to the student community.
To put it in perspective, if each of the “Renewal” fees was eliminated, students would individually save about $50 per year.
Why is this policy unjust?
The original proposal document claims that it will promote transparency. However, the document itself is shockingly opaque. Firstly, the proposal does not provide any criteria for how fees were assessed. The single sentence which explains the distinction between “Exempt” and “Renewal” fees uses vague language, like “providing extensive support to our students” without defining those terms. Even under this criteria, many of the fees in the “Renewal” category should obviously qualify for the “Exempt” category. For example, the Resource Groups fee funds organizations like the Pride Collective and the Women's Centre — both of which provide “extensive support to our students.”
Secondly, the proposal cites the difficulty in running referenda to remove club fees as a reason for the proposal, ignoring the fact that each one of the fees present had to deal with this exact same difficulty and overcome it in order to pass in the first place. Lowering the standard for removing these fees is simply unfair.
Thirdly, none of the parties subject to the policy’s mandates were consulted on or even informed of its consequences. The VP Finance failed even to do this while having met with the presidents of the UBC Debate Society, Jazz Cafe and Musical Theatre Troupe from the Campus Culture and Performance Coalition, which represents clubs funded by the Culture and Performance fee, just last week. The affected on-campus groups first found out about the proposal by word of mouth from people within the AMS this weekend. That gives these organizations barely enough time to even respond to the proposal, let alone to mobilize a campaign against it.
If the AMS was genuinely concerned that clubs are misusing student fees, as they state in the “Purpose” section of the original proposal, they could have proposed a referendum which would require clubs to make their budgetary information open to the student body. The VP Finance portfolio is to ensure that clubs and on-campus organizations are operating transparently. If what the proposal claims is true — that many clubs are shadily misusing student fees — then the VP Finance should have done their due diligence and investigated how student fees are being used. Instead, this proposal would completely offload that responsibility onto students themselves. Students should have influence over the fees that they pay, but placing the burden of assessing club transparency completely onto them is unreasonable.
Finally, the proposal appears rigged to result in most fees being removed. To renew their funding, a club would need to obtain enough “Yes” votes. Students, particularly first years, may be unaware of the services and opportunities which certain fees make possible. But they will be aware of the individual cost it has for them, meaning that they would be less likely to vote “Yes.”
How will it affect student clubs?
The time and energy required to perpetually campaign depletes a club's ability to actually function as a club. Once defunded, clubs will scale-down events, perform less outreach, and generally fade from campus life. That means when referendum time comes, students will be less likely to vote to continue funding; not because they don't want to pay a marginal cost for a richer campus culture, but because clubs will simply have lost the ability to provide value during that referendum year.
How will it affect programs which help marginalized students?
The programs which have the greatest need for consistent, predictable funding are those which provide services to the most marginalized UBC students. In this proposal, the AMS abandons their obligation to these students, who have already won the support of the current student body.
The clubs funded by the Resource Groups fee are a good example. These clubs include the Social Justice Centre, the Women’s Centre, and the Pride Collective. These groups benefit the overall student body by taking care of those students that are most vulnerable to marginalization on campus. These clubs will be the most impacted by this proposal, as their budgets already operate at the margin. Since they service the needs of a small portion of the student body, they will face even greater challenges when re-campaigning for funding.
Many resource groups operate on a multi-year timeline, so funding stability is particularly important to their activities. Marginalization and systematic oppression aren’t confined to a three-year funding cycle, so neither should the Resource Group clubs.
The Student Fee Restructure Proposal is a lazy solution to a problem which hasn’t been shown to exist. It would strain the resources of clubs which provide unique contributions to our campus culture and would devastate programs which support our most marginalized students. The AMS has a number of other ways of preventing the misuse of student fees — having the VP Finance jettison their responsibility with this proposal is a poor one.
Lewis Dillman is the President of UBC debate and a 3rd year student, studying finance.
Reid Marcus is a former Vice President of the Debate Society and a 5th year student studying Philosophy & History.
The Resource Group Collective is a student collective which coordinates programs focused on social justice and marginalized students.