Don't Opt Out!
The Student Choice Initiative (SCI) will negatively impact almost everyone who studies and works at the University of Toronto. It is a clever turn of phrase for government intrusion into campus democracy, posing an ultimatum between something bad and something worse. We expect that many students will opt out of the fees because of their own increased financial burden thanks to those cuts to the OSAP program. And those who don’t opt out will be rewarded with a campus whose services and organizations are forced to operate on a shoestring budget.
Students will be given the “choice” to opt out of fees starting in July. We want to be clear that we as an organization oppose government intervention into campus democracy, equity and services. We encourage you all to take the process seriously and consider the impact of defunding the organizations on the opt-out list. If possible, please continue to support these services and please urge your fellow graduates and undergraduates to do the same.
What is the Student Choice Initiative (SCI)?
The Student Choice Initiative was announced by the Ontario government in January 2019 as a facet of their schema of cuts to post-secondary education, along with the 10% tuition cut, cuts to the OSAP program and the turn from grants to loans. The Student Choice Initiative requires universities to provide students with the option to opt out of paying fees to campus organizations that the government decides are “non-mandatory non-tuition ancillary fees.”
Why Don't We Like It?
The SCI ignores institutional opt-in processes and referenda which have already given students the opportunity to vote on which groups secure funding through student fees. This covers many things that fall under the category of “incidental” fees at the University of Toronto. The official guidelines were published only in March and are set to take effect this summer for the 2019-2020 term. The SCI pretends to give students greater choice but only serves to reduce the number of services available for everyone.
What Parts of the University are Impacted by SCI?
The following organizations will be most directly impacted by opt-outs, most likely becoming financially insolvent in the coming years:
- Campus newspapers and radio
- Campus food banks
- All levels of student-government associations (including UTSU, GSU, APUS, and more)
- Centre for Women and Trans People
- LGBTQ+ organizations
- Students for Barrier Free Access
- First Nations House
- Ontario Public Interest Research Group (OPIRG) – membership 70,000, servicing 3,000 through working groups
Essential services, while safe from opt-outs, will be diminished by the post-secondary budget cut and thus facing increased strain in the coming years; they include:
- Athletics and recreation
- Health and counselling services
- Financial aid offices
- Campus safety programs
- Academic support
The Graduate Students Union (GSU) has recently released an Open Letter to the University of Toronto and posted a page on their website about the Student Choice Initiative. They identify its impact on a range of services along with the broader cuts to post-secondary education on graduate students:
- Funding, grants, and bursaries
- Academic advocacy and appeals supports
- Health and dental insurance
- Loss of the Ontario Student Grant
- Mandated upper limit of 50% on funding graduate students can receive from provincial grants, the rest coming from loans (The government has not made it clear whether provincial scholarships such as OGS will contribute to the 50% grant cap.)
- Loss of the 6-month loan interest grace period after graduation for provincial loans
- Change in the calculation for provincial funding for universities and colleges to a “performance based” system
How does the SCI impact us as members of CUPE 3902 - teachers, instructors and academics?
Along with the broader cuts to post-secondary education, the SCI will impact our campus workplaces for the coming year. As instructors and educators, we are the first point of contact for students; if students have access to fewer resources, that will impact the classroom and the types of support they look to us to provide. We are frequently the front-line support for our students in moments of emotional and academic distress. We will now be directing them toward campus services which will be under-funded, understaffed and over-extended in terms of service provision.
As many CUPE 3902 members are students themselves, we will also feel the impact of under-funded student associations and campus groups and the reduction in services we use like those provided by organizations such as the Centre for Women and Trans People and Students for Barrier Free Access. With the SCI in effect, we can expect that Ontario’s students will be finding themselves even more financially burdened by education debt, as funding shifts from publicly supported grants to predatory loans.
What can we do to stop this?
First, just say NOO–No Opting Out–and get your colleagues and students to do the same. Next, join CUPE 3902’s MobComm (firstname.lastname@example.org) or the UTGSU’s Mobilization Working Group (email@example.com) and help us organize for change. For information about the SCI’s effects on Course Unions, email firstname.lastname@example.org.