When I was an eager and green first year at Trent University, I remember my father telling me a story about one of his University friends back in the 80s. Like Trent, York University offered any student group “free” money to help finance the group’s activities. Well, my father’s friend started a group, received a few hundred dollars, went and bought “prizes” (read: stuff he wanted) and held a “fundraiser” auction that went unadvertised. When no one showed up, guess who kept the prizes?
I laughed at the time, but I recently read the list of levies that each student at Trent pays to support various organizations, clubs, charities and special interest groups on campus. Every single one of us pays over $180 per year to support over 30 groups that most of us have a) no participation in b) receive no benefit from or c) have never even heard of. Each year, $18.79 is charged to us to pay for Trent Radio (does anyone even know what frequency it’s on?), $18.87 for Trent Annual (despite my never even seeing a Trent Yearbook through three years of schooling), $12.50 for the politically ideological OPIRG… and the list goes on. Sure, some of these levies are “refundable,” but the total of all available refunds is only $51, and we have to go to group individually to get our own money back. There’s no “opt out” button.
This is all the more troubling with the development of various “mini-scandals” on campus revolving around such levied groups: The TCSA overspent last year’s budget by over $10,000 due to incompetent accounting (guess who will end up paying for that) and Gzowski Student Cabinet has been accused of using levy money to pay for exclusive cabinet socials and to redecorate their student spaces with fancy new furniture. Each one of us pays a $13.37 non-refundable fee to support cabinet. Looks like our money is being spent wisely!
There is an alternative to this coerced and non-voluntary transfer of wealth from students to student groups: voluntary participation. Here’s an idea, how about we get our $180 back for every year we’ve been at Trent, and we the students can decide how to spend it? Those of us who participate in some of these groups can continue to support them voluntarily (the old fashioned way), or the groups could host fundraising events, or raise money by simply selling a competitive service or product. The truth is, I currently feel ripped off. I have had $560 dollars taken from me since day one at Trent over and above my tuition payments (adding to student debt) to finance tens of student groups where two things are true: 1. They are popular, useful and engaging student groups that likely wouldn’t need my money anyway because they could attract support from others, or 2. They wouldn’t survive without my coerced payment. If no one would voluntarily support them, why do they exist at all?
Am I anti-student group? Am I a raving individualist who wants to cut everyone off from the sense of community that these groups strive to create? Absolutely not. Quite the opposite, I love the sense of community that a University can provide. But think back to your most sacred relationships and communities; are these relationships voluntary or forced? Student groups wouldn’t disappear in the absence of forced redistribution, we would simply choose to support the groups that best align with our interests and values. I would gladly buy a copy of Arthur each week, and would be fine paying more for beer at the Ceilie so they could cover costs. I would gladly donate to the Peterborough Coalition Against Poverty. But as it stands, someone else is deciding what mandatory levies to charge me, and who to give my money to. Forced charity is no charity at all. And if the groups that refurnish their clubhouses with our money couldn’t survive without force, good riddance.