The recent CSA election campaigns featured messages students hear nearly every year: more quality post-secondary education and a more financially accessible campus, “fighting the hikes,” and addressing high debt loads of graduating students.
Unfortunately, it is beyond the purview of the CSA to do anything about tuition fees. These are regulated by the government, and at the university level, tuition increases are decided by the Board of Governors. Tuition is going up next year, has gone up in the past year, and will continue to go up in the future. No matter how much students may campaign against it, it is not going to change.
In addition to tuition, students pay compulsory university fees. These include fees for athletics, the University Centre, health services fees, and student services fees, which supports things like Safewalk, The Learning Commons, CECS, CIP, etc. These services benefit almost all students and promote a healthy, balanced campus life.
Students should be focusing on those fees that are controllable, and these are the Student Organization Fees, which require a referendum question to pass.
With more and more student groups requesting funding, there are likely groups that have been approved many years ago via referendum and now no longer have to worry about remaining accountable with the funds. It would be advisable to look at a policy that initiates a program review of every single CSA student organization fee every few years. This would have to be done through a referendum question. The groups receiving fees should have to pass another referendum to keep their fees, and students should be able to remove funding from any group. This is democratic and increases accountability by providing more student input in a process which becomes set in stone and becomes nearly impossible to change. In addition, every group receiving funds from CSA student fees should be required to have a public budget in an easily accessible, centralized location, that is organized by the CSA, so that students know what their money is being spent on. This would increase transparency by helping ensure that no money is being wasted, and would also make these groups accountable to students whose money they are using.
For example, one such fee is the Universal Bus Pass. Many students have complained about the new bus routes. Recently, the city’s operations and transit committee voted to approve a 4.1 per cent increase in the bus pass from $86.00 to $89.50. According to an article in the Guelph Mercury, an increase of five per cent would have triggered a referendum question revisiting the issue. This was a very sneaky move by city council. Paying more for less is not something students on a strapped budget want. A review every few years would allow students to determine whether or not the bus system is meeting their needs, and would ultimately have the power to reject bus fees if they so desire.
Another such fee is the Canadian Federation of Students and the Canadian Federation of Students-Ontario. This organization lobbies for decreased student funds, among other things, but has taken a very totalitarian stance when universities have tried to leave it. CFS took Guelph to court procedural bylaws to prevent the university from seceding, despite a clear majority of students voting to secede. Why, even though students have voted on leaving CFS, are these fees still being paid? A public budget will be able to prevent questions like these from arising and will allow for greater student input in how funds are spent.
Finally, a defeated candidate for the CSA elections revealed that Commissioners are paid over $25,000 a year, and campaigned on taking 20 per cent of his salary and giving it back to the students. This would be an interesting path for the CSA Commissioners to take. It would be quite satisfying for students to see those Commissioners who campaigned on the premises of creating a financially accessible campus, addressing high debt loads, and “fighting the hikes” to take some of their salary which students are providing them and investing it either back in the students, or in an initiative which inarguably helps students.