From the Editor: The Ford government’s move to make student fees optional could hurt B.C. campus press

The Varsity is the University of Toronto’s student funded newsroom. (submitted)

As anyone working in the field will know firsthand, student journalism is rarely taken seriously. It’s a battle to earn respect and to carve out a spot for yourself in campus culture, especially if you’re a new paper like The Runner. What’s more, there’s very little public faith in the press right now, and debates about free speech are brought up routinely on post-secondary campuses.

This sort of environment provided the perfect setup for the Ford government to propose a draft policy that would make student union fees—and, as a result, publication fees—optional on Jan. 17.

“[The provincial government should] protect and guarantee the freedom of students by allowing individuals to choose, for themselves, whether or not to become a member of their student association,” reads the directive, which goes on to explain that the motion would allow for students to opt-out of all fees deemed “non-essential”, constituting all but those related to health and safety. Quite likely, this would put funding for student papers on the chopping block.

This notion has the potential to terrify anyone with an understanding of the necessity of autonomy between press and institutions. While the policy is just a draft, and will surely become more specific in later iterations, the vagueness of this process could spell disaster for important on-campus resources.

There is a rationale for the idea that we can safely do away with student press, commonly held by right-leaning students, which makes sense considering that the policy was introduced by Doug Ford’s conservative government.

“It is extraordinarily irritating for conservative or libertarian students to be forced to pay for a university press which—save for the odd letter to the editor—never reflects their values or viewpoints,” writes a commenter on a Varsity editorial about this issue. Hypothetically, they might have a point.

In November, The Runner printed an editorial acknowledging that conservative writers are few and far between in the realm of student publishing, adding that those interested in contributing to our newsroom are more than welcome. Reluctance to pay for a publication you don’t see yourself reflected in is understandable, but making all student union fees optional won’t solve that problem, especially because almost all on-campus papers already provide opt-outs. You can see notice of ours on page two of this issue (issue 11, volume 10).

At KPU, students who feel so inclined can choose to stop paying the Student Publication Fee when we run a notice about opt-outs like this at the beginning of every semester. That’s a measure that has always been available and always will be.

Giving students the option to opt-out of all “non-essential” fees would do more than just potentially shutter up the windows and doors of the community newsrooms. It would also put many of the services provided by the unions themselves in jeopardy. Through this policy, the Ford government—which seems so concerned about issues of free speech—could end up decimating the sole aspect of campus culture that allow students to access the truth about their institution.

This has only been proposed in Ontario, but it’s also being discussed in Alberta, and once the ball starts rolling it might not stop until it hits B.C.’s doorstep. When and if it does come here, we should know where we stand.