By Rob Reid, Fossil Free UW
Later this month, our umbrella group the Waterloo Public Interest Research Group (WPIRG) is facing a referendum to defund it. This article is an endorsement of the Yes\Keep campaign and those wishing to read about the No side afterward may visit the links included below.
WPIRG is a student-run incubator and resource hub for social change on campus and in the wider community. One contribution WPIRG makes is through Action Groups (such as us, Food Not Bombs, the UW Community Garden, KW Solidarity Network), with whom they share funding, strategic advice, and networking. In addition WPIRG brings speakers to campus, runs conferences, film screenings and festivals, offers grants and bursaries and much more. They’ve been a positive force for change at UW since 1973 and we would be heartbroken to see them be defunded. You can find out more about WPIRG through the Yes committee website as well as their own webpage.
The No committee, built from members of the Opt-in UW group is framing their argument in terms of opposition to the mechanics of the optional fees system uses. Like other services including the Student Refugee Program, the Imprint newspaper, the FEDS/GSA health and dental plan, and the faculty-specific student societies and endowment funds (like SciSoc and WatSEF, AHSUM and AHSEF etc), WPIRG is funded by a refundable fee, meaning everyone is charged that fee along with tuition before each term and must request a refund afterward. WPIRG’s fee is 4.25 per term, and like all refundable fees was added to the fees schedule by referendum.
Fossil Free is arguing in support of the Yes committee to keep WPIRG. Like the other services mentioned, WPIRG is one of the many facets of campus that make it a dynamic place; stirring up ideas, supporting actions for positive change. Even if a student were to actively avoid the groups, events, and resources that WPIRG makes possible during their whole academic career, they would still benefit from its presence contributing to the vibrancy and the resiliency of the community. Speaking specifically to the mechanics of the fee administration that the No committee is messaging: the opt-in fee makes it simple for the majority of students who don’t get their refunds and the fact that opt-in fees can only be approved by students at referendum ensures that these fees are not spent on irrelevant or inappropriate costs.
From our experience with energy companies, Fossil Free finds it useful to look at the subtext of the marketing that the No committee is putting forward and understand that real values and ideas being represented. With austerity budgets, far-right politics, and increased militarization and surveillance of civil life on the rise globally, traditional liberal ideas such as welfare, multiculturalism, and human and environmental rights are being aggressively challenged. In Canada, there has been a concerted effort to attack the left on campuses over the past few years. The article Defunding the public interest, published in Briarpatch magazine, reports on the tactics used to challenge left politics on campuses through controlling student government and defunding organizations like the PIRGS. It is based largely on material posted to WikiLeaks from secret trainings, one notably led by ousted Kitchener-Waterloo MP Peter Braid. This is mentioned not to imply that Opt-In UW is part of a shadowy right-wing conspiracy, but rather to raise the question of the group’s real message, values, and mission and to encourage open discussion considering the real argument going on.
Please consider the big picture, what kind of campus you want to live and learn on, and what kind of future you are fighting for when you cast your votes September 26-28.
Please note that this article is does not necessarily represent the opinions of anyone other than its author, including any WPIRG Board, Staff, or other members.