The Future of KPIRG Rests in Students’ Hands

Voters will decide on Feb. 12 and 13 whether or not to redistribute the PIRG fund to scholarships and bursaries

Simon Massey of KPIRG working diligently. (Kristen Frier)

The Kwantlen Public Interest Research Group, the on-campus organization which has been struggling to function normally since filing a notice of civil claim against its founder Richard Hossein last year, could soon be left without a penny to its name.

In May, the Kwantlen Student Association voted to stop remitting fees to KPIRG, a decision that was made due to the belief that—by using student funds irresponsibly, as was alleged in the notice of civil claim—the group had violated its autonomy agreement with the KSA and could not be trusted to make proper use of student fees.

As such, KPIRG has been functioning with zero revenue, surviving through the last eight-and-a-half months solely off of its previously collected funds.

On Dec. 15, the KSA told the university to stop collecting a PIRG fee, so as of Fall 2019, no new fees will accumulate in the fund. Furthermore, the student association voted to put to referendum whether or not it should take all of KPIRG’s remaining money and redistribute it into “the creation and support of scholarships and bursaries.” Students will answer this question by casting their ballots during the KSA elections on Feb. 12 and 13.

By bringing the question to referendum, the KSA hopes to give students the power to make their own decision about KPIRG, according to KSA President Joseph Thorpe.

“If students are paying into something, it should be for their benefit. That’s really where the referendum question came from,” he says. “If they want that money to go to scholarships and bursaries, that’s their decision. If they don’t want that, if they want KPIRG to keep the fund there, then that’s their prerogative.”

Thorpe abstained from the vote to put the question of KPIRG’s funding to referendum at the Dec. 15 meeting of council. While he understands the group’s concerns about how it will operate without student fees, he reiterates that the PIRG is ineligible for funding without having a functioning autonomy agreement with the KSA.

Simon Massey, who is on KPIRG’s board of directors and has been the face of the organization since the fraud scandal broke in March, is nervous about what’s to come for the group. He says that the future of KPIRG “all depends on the KSA,” although the organization is “still trying to remain relevant” and “trying to get back on [its] feet.”

“We’re still trying to support events as best we can, although our budget is starting to really tighten up,” says Massey. “We’re down to one staff member and I don’t think we can afford to replace our outreach coordinator, whose term ended in the summer, and our research coordinator’s term ended in the fall.”

Massey explains that, due to the lack of funding and the departure of staff members, KPIRG will have to rely more on volunteer work in order to sustain itself.

“Ideally, [the KSA] wouldn’t stop collecting [the PIRG fee], it wouldn’t convert to bursaries, and they’d just keep giving it to KPIRG, but that’s obviously what I want as someone who still sees the value in KPIRG’s work,” adds Massey. “It’s still my hope that KPIRG would be able to prove itself.”

To build KPIRG back up, Thorpe says that the team needs to make sure that they’re “internally strong” and are organizing community and advocacy-based initiatives.

“I think a PIRG is a benefit on campus and I hope that, in the future, it starts up again and the KSA can work with them to bring it back, because it works for advocacy on so many levels,” he says.

The group’s board is also considering how it will proceed with its civil suit against Hossein as the window to take action will soon be closing. Whether their financial position will allow for this, however, is uncertain.

“If we proceed fully with litigation, it would be great if [the KSA] would fund it. They could bestow any amount of that fee to KPIRG for any PIRG-related purposes. It’s very open as to what they could do.”

“I think KPIRG needs to really think about if the litigation is worth the cost,” responds Thorpe. “[But] I can’t have a stance on a legal battle that I’m not a part of as president.”

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