From January 27 to 29, the Students’ Society of McGill University (SSMU) will run a referendum to increase its membership fee by $5.50 per student per semester. SSMU’s financial difficulties are well-documented and alarming – executives are overworked, services are underfunded, and support staff hours are being reduced. Despite this, many students at McGill are angry about fee increases, and are instinctively inclined to vote against paying more. However, automatically voting “no” on fee increases for student-run services disregards their importance for our collective well-being and fails to hold the University accountable for its role in necessitating such fee increases.
While anger at ever-increasing fees is understandable, students should recognize that the University bears most of the responsibility for the necessity of fee levies. SSMU’s expanding mental health portfolio, for instance, exists largely to compensate for the inadequate mental health services provided by the University. Likewise, the University recently pushed the responsibility for 24-hour library access onto the SSMU Library Improvement Fund. In 2014, SSMU’s controversial building fee was only implemented because the University had imposed an increase of $20,000 per year on SSMU’s lease, in addition to making SSMU responsible for $100,000 per year in utilities costs. In contrast, some other Canadian student unions only pay a symbolic fee for their buildings.
Instead of directing their anger at the University, where it belongs, students often express it by voting “no” on student fee referenda. Last November, 54.7 per cent of undergraduate students voted “no” to a minor and long overdue $1.50 fee increase for CKUT, despite the unquestioned importance of a campus radio station – a staple at most universities. Meanwhile, every semester, the University charges every full-time student a $130 athletics fee, a $114 “registration charge,” a $111 “information technology charge,” and a $20 “transcripts and diploma charge,” not to mention the $144 student services fee – all of which students unquestioningly dish out for.
Impulsive resentment toward SSMU and other fee levies is unjustified. A widespread misconception is that SSMU is ineffective and a waste of money; in fact, SSMU provides an impressive amount of services given its limited resources. SSMU also advocates for students at the university and provincial levels, and provides employment to its student staff. The membership fee increase will ensure the survival of the vital services SSMU provides, the continued maintenance and development of the Shatner building, and adequate support for student clubs and other student groups – which also form an integral part of SSMU’s activities.
Student-run services offered on campus, including those offered by SSMU, are only possible because they are supported by fees, and we all collectively benefit from them. As such, fee levies should not be approached with a default position of resentment. We should keep in mind that fee-funded groups enrich our university experience, and direct our anger at an administration that is passing off its responsibilities to student groups instead of vilifying the student groups that are picking up the slack.
—The McGill Daily editorial board
Readers should note that the Daily Publications Society holds an interest in the outcome of the SSMU membership fee increase referendum, as it is a student group tenant in the SSMU building.