Some student groups have taken a bigger hit than others in opt-in rates
The Ontario Divisional Court has ruled that Premier Doug Ford’s Student Choice Initiative is unlawful, stating that “the provincial government acted without statutory authority when implementing SCI.”
The decision was made Thursday night following a lawsuit filed by the Canadian Federation of Students-Ontario (CFS-O) and the York Federation of Students.
As the fall semester began this year, some student groups faced harsh cuts in funding as a result of the Student Choice Initiative (SCI).
This school year, students had the opportunity to opt out of a handful of non-tuition fees as part of the SCI, which was introduced by the provincial government in January.
Students had the opportunity to make informed decisions about which student groups they would support, but it ended up hurting some campus groups more than others.
“It’s no secret that the Student Choice Initiative has fundamentally changed all student groups’ approaches to their operations,” said Sarah Krichel, editor-in-chief of The Eyeopener.
The Eyeopener received a 44.4 per cent opt-in percentage this year from full-time students. The annual fee to support the newspaper was listed as $5.65.
According to Krichel, The Eyeopener had to axe the roles of sports and media editors, as well as the podcast producer position, to cope with the funding cuts.
Krichel calls the SCI “senseless, misleading and anti-student life,” for affecting the newspaper in its reporting on “issues that are crucial to the student body’s knowledge.”
“The initiative has stripped a vital student resource of its resources and has hindered our ability to report on the stories that no one else will report on,” Krichel said.
In a statement to the Ryersonian, Tom Thorne, who first started The Eyeopener in 1967 said, “I think what needs to be asked at Queen’s Park is what the intent was of making fees optional.” Thorne also noted that student fee options can create “havoc on campus” when implemented too fast.
According to Cole Brocksom, co-president of the Ryerson Journalism Course Union (JCU), the group had an opt-in rate of 60 per cent.
“The JCU is part of the Ryerson Students’ Union, so our opt-in percentage was the same as other member groups of the RSU,” Brocksom said.
The JCU used to be allocated a budget from a portion of the RSU’s annual funding, but now that student unions are being deemed “non-essential” under the SCI, they are no longer given that same funding.
“The amount of additional project funding we are able to pitch [to the RSU] for was reduced from $2,000 a semester to $600,” Brocksom said.
With a significantly lowered budget, Brocksom said the union is focused on making sure its pitches to on-campus organizations for funding are strong. “The organizations we’re asking for money from might have to be a little pickier about who they can actually give money to,” he said.
Brocksom added that it is difficult to receive funding for university events that are purely social and that some events, such as the FCAD Halloween Club Night that was done in partnership with CURTAS, the Radio and Television Arts (RTA) course union, are completely funded by ticket sales.
The RSU got a total opt-in percentage of 60.4 per cent, meaning its budget is about $200,000 less than it was last year.
With lower budgets, the Continuing Education Students’ Association of Ryerson (CESAR) has suffered, too. According to CESAR president Nicole Brayiannis, the opt-in rate for part-time members was 78 per cent and 59 per cent for CESAR continuing education members.
“The student choice initiative has forced CESAR to restructure our organization,” said Brayiannis.
She said the group used to give out approximately $125,000 in bursaries annually, but the cuts have strained this figure.
Some of the changes CESAR has had to make include reducing its five executive positions to three, while membership was also split into two categories — full members and non-voting members, according to Brayiannis.
“Full members have paid the optional portion of CESAR’s membership fee and can access all aspects of CESAR, while non-voting members have only paid the essential portion and cannot access non-essential categories — such as CESAR’s bursary program, run or vote in CESAR elections and [they] cannot vote at general membership meetings,” said Brayiannis.
Other Ryerson groups deemed non-essential for full-time students that are suffering from cuts include CJRU Ryerson Radio ($3.73 opt-in charge) and the WUSC Student Refugee program ($4.69 opt-in charge).