The Student Choice Initiative: Why It Doesn't Make Sense
PHOTO CREDIT - The Varsity (University of Toronto)
Ford’s Government has made several changes that will impact the upcoming academic year—and students are not happy about it. The 10% reduction in tuition does nothing for students who rely on OSAP grants to help pay their tuition, which will no longer be available. The removal of the grace period has sparked panic in students who have to use loans to fund their education, and now have to worry about the interest these loans will collect as soon as they graduate. International student fees, which are already high, won’t be included in the 10% decrease or the tuition freeze for the following year. Included in these negative changes is what is being referred to as the “Student Choice Initiative.” The reason I find this initiative to be ridiculous is not rooted in the idea itself, because while I don’t agree with it, I can understand the logic behind it. Why should students pay money for certain services and campus activities if they are not the ones personally benefiting from them? I can understand this argument. However I find it to be a narrow point of view that puts a larger number of things into question, and if adopted it would eventually fail the logic behind the argument.
When we enroll in classes and pay our tuition, none of that money goes directly to our course instructors. If that were so, class sizes would have a direct impact on the salary of that instructor, which we all know is not the case, as some of the highest paid profs have some of the smallest classes. So with that same logic, wouldn’t it make sense for students to be able to “opt out” of contributing to the salaries of professors we do not take courses from? Of course not. When you enroll in classes at a university or college, you’re not just paying for those classes. You’re paying into the institution as a whole. A parallel can be drawn between paying tuition and paying taxes. Not every person benefits from every government service, but everyone benefits from the institution as a whole.
Another reason why I find the Student Choice Initiative to be illogical is because what is considered to be essential is highly subjective. The University of Toronto student paper, The Varsity, published a document outlining what will be included as essential fees. Although the article states that the veracity of this document has not been confirmed by the Ontario government, at the very least it provides insight as to what will be considered essential and non-essential. Essential services which students will not be able to opt out of include health and counseling, student ID cards and financial aid offices among other necessary services. However, there is one that sticks out distinctly from the others: athletics and recreation.
It is important to note that nowhere on this list does it mention student government or levy organizations. This begs the question of why athletics remains on the list of mandatory fees while so many organizations are at risk of losing their funding. This is not meant to negate the importance of athletics in a university, but athletics is only one of the many ways in which students get involved in extracurriculars. There is a wide variety of organizations and events that exist to enrich their university experience. This includes events like Frosh week, pub nights, and Late Night Luniks, as well as every student-run club on campus. It is a trend within education to prioritize athletics over the arts, which is highlighted by this decision. In order for the Student Choice Initiative to be constructed in a fair and equal manner, it should be consistent with its criteria. If athletics are considered essential, all other extracurriculars should be considered essential as well.
I think that within this debate, it is also important to bring up the general allocation of tuition money. The Student Choice Initiative will likely reduce the amount of extracurriculars available to students, the number of employment opportunities available on campus, and the overall quality of the university experience. While this is happening, over 1600 faculty members of York University appeared on the sunshine list in 2018. For those who are unfamiliar with the sunshine list, it is a public disclosure of salaries exceeding 100,000. It is unclear if the 10% tuition cut is going to impact the salaries of these faculty members, but nothing has been said to indicate that it will. It seems more likely that this tuition cut will mean less funding for student services and resources. This, paired with the Student Choice Initiative, threatens a dramatic decrease in opportunities for students for the upcoming academic year.
For this upcoming academic year, I hope that everyone, upon being given the choice to opt out of “non-essential” fees, will consider the wider implications of that choice. For example, in my first year I was able to enjoy Frosh week and all the benefits that came from it. The fact that during my first week of university there were D-Frosh all over who were happy to point me to my classroom, show me where to find the shuttle, and simply answer questions helped me acclimatize to university. It’s disappointing to me that because of this change, students starting university this coming year may not have the opportunity to enjoy that same experience.