By Dave Teeuwen
When you enroll in a full time or part time program at the U of C, you automatically become a part of the Student’s Union. You are not given a choice; you are simply added to their membership and made to pay a pre-determined amount ($33, plus $20.75 in anomalous fees). This primarily funds the ongoing operations of the SU. It’s not as if they tempt you with all of the available perks at the SU, either. You pay blindly. Whether or not the services matter to you is unimportant; you are now part of the union.
Student plans like ours are carried out all over the country at various universities, and it is so common no one even questions it. Yet, when you realize your fees are funding expansions you may not want and buying privileges which make no difference to you, contributing a single dollar to the SU seems wrong.
Whether it wanted to contribute or not barely matters, however. You are signed up and added to their membership regardless of how you feel. You were not even presented with membership as an option. The money that you paid in fees could have been used on other things you need (i.e. books, food, etc.), but you had no choice. The present system seems unbearably backwards. It goes against even the pseudo-democratic notion to which most Students’ Unions in the country claim adherence. It’s true that the students elect the executive officials, but behind the scenes there lurks a large full-time staff. They need enormous amounts of money to maintain their careers, and the student body funds it. From this angle, the SU is an obstacle to students.
The real issue is the freedom to choose. If students are given the freedom to choose, then the democratic system works. As it stands, there is only a veil of democracy. When some students choose not to vote, officials are still elected, and students still have to pay fees. I personally would not opt for membership in the SU, if given the choice. We are not allowed to refuse membership, though; we are only allowed to choose whose salary we provide. At this point, students are only given a right to pay.
What the SU actually stands for is self-preservation. With Mac Hall expansion comes a need for more staff-the larger the part and full-time staff, the more permanent the SU. Some of the staff have been employed for more than a decade. These are careers which students carry the burden of funding. From time to time, their salaries rise. Obviously, a mandatory fee is crucial to their existence. However, this should not be the responsibility of students unless it works for them; the present situation does not. The raw financial return to students in issues such as tuition or available learning tools, such as computers or more library books, is sorely lacking. We do, however, have more than enough space to recreate. Most students, however, choose their marks over recreation.
There must be a restructuring in fee-payment for the SU. Students need to be given the right to opt out of more than just the health plan or student bursary-or even the SU itself, if one so desires. For what you actually receive from the SU, which of those items are crucial to your university career? Students must be given the right to choose who spends their money. Freedom of choice is the right of students. In a democratic system, students must be allowed to refuse to be a part of the SU if they feel it does not help them.