MacHall, a future worth paying for

As the story on our cover explains, there will be a vote at next week’s Student Legislative Council as to whether a referendum will be held in March on a new $35 student fee that would be used to fund the re-development of MacHall. Students paying this fee will likely never personally benefit from a re-developed MacHall. Nevertheless, it is our view that if the new fee goes to a referendum, students should vote in favour of it, as the fee will help strengthen the Students’ Union which — when all is said and done — is an organization worth defending.

As a recent SU presentation points out, University of Calgary undergraduates paid building fees in the past for the construction and major renovations of MacHall. In 1953, the fee was $6 for every full-time student. And in 1965, students paid $17. With inflation, these numbers would be $52 and $124 today.

The SU got more than their money’s worth — MacHall is an unbelievable cash cow that produces revenues unrivaled by almost any student union in Canada. The money the SU makes through tenant agreements with food vendors, businesses, conferences and concerts in MacHall’s three venues is used to fund more student services than most Canadian students could ever dream of, and they accomplish this while collecting a student fee that has remained constant since the 1970s.

Ownership of the building is currently in contention. The SU’s lease on MacHall will expire in December 2014, and the group’s executives are currently in negotiation with administration over who will reap the building’s future bounty. If the SU loses control of MacHall, future U of C undergraduates will likely experience a combination of rising student fees with diminishing services, and the SU will lose its already dull teeth when it comes to lobbying efforts.

If current undergraduates agree to pay even $35 extra for the re-development of MacHall, SU executives can approach future negotiations and confidently say that students are not greedy or apathetic and should maintain control of MacHall. As well, passing the referendum would further conversations about the role student consent should play in additional student fees.

In many ways, the SU’s credibility as a lobbying organization is at stake because they already use this argument on a number of issues. When student leaders try to tackle issues like the regulation of mandatory non-instructional fees, they are often confronted with skeptical MLAs or university administrators who think students will always pay as little as possible because they don’t see the bigger picture. If students collectively decided to support an organization that advocates policy on their behalf, it would show their ability to recognize their interests and rationally pursue them — a perfect demonstration that students can tackle policy issues with clear eyes and integrity.

In the grand scheme, putting up some of our money to improve MacHall is the decent thing for us to do. Whether we acknowledge it or not, we benefit today from a history of students who chose to fund improvements to post-secondary institutions for future students to enjoy. This is not a gift that we should take for granted — this is a legacy that we must protect and a spirit we must preserve.

The SU might seem irrelevant, but it is our best and indeed our only means to deal with the university’s problems as a group, taking our unique needs and interests into account. Only through organization and pooled resources can students build any position of strength and, despite what university administrators or government ministers might tell you, this is the only position that will command their respect.

The SU is an ingrained part of the U of C’s student culture more important than any Thursday night piss up, faculty loyalty or “Eyes High” goal. It’s important that we worry SU leaders with our opinions, stress them with our demands and pester them with our questions to keep them accountable. But we should support them and encourage them to effectively defend our interests, and a good place for us to start would be to pay for part of this re-development.

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