We all know the importance of newspapers in a democratic society—but we should also acknowledge the importance of student newspapers on campuses. Not only are they an outlet for student creativity, they are a way to convey stories that are important to those who attend these institutions. It seems like this integral part of universities is being challenged in Ontario.
In January 2019, Ontario Premier Doug Ford announced changes to post-secondary funding and costs. The Ontario government wants to lower student tuition by 10 per cent, which, at first glance, seems great. According to a News Release by the government, the tuition rate reduction is a step to “keep more money in the pockets of Ontario students and families.” But one of the changes brought forth in this plan is the Student Choice Initiative. Through this initiative, the government wants to give every student the choice of which student fees will be paid and how that money will be allocated, according to the same source.
Some campus-wide services such as athletics and walksafe programs will remain mandatory. These ancillary fees range from $500 to $2,000 annually, according to The Globe and Mail, and contribute to services like campus newspapers, LGBTQ+ centres, and student government. The Student Choice Initiative gives students the choice to opt-out of paying for fees that are deemed non-essential. While it may seem great, in theory, to give students a choice like this, it isn’t beneficial for important services on campuses that rely heavily on these fees to exist and function.
According to a recent survey by OneClass, a Toronto-based education technology company, 57.4 per cent of students would opt out of fees used to fund student newspapers, if given the choice. The survey, taken by almost 600 Ontario college students, highlighted how damaging this initiative will be for campus newspapers in Ontario, and elsewhere too.
We at The Concordian are not the only ones concerned about the proposed changes. Many student groups have protested this change, stressing how this initiative can hurt student unions that fund services important to many students, according to The Globe and Mail. We are worried that by deeming student newspapers “unessential,” the Ford government is encouraging the narrative that media and journalism are not a key component of our democratic society.
Student newspapers give students a chance to make their stories heard. Not only do they promote the idea of free speech, they give us an opportunity to put it into practice. Student newspapers improve communication between different groups and highlight distinct voices. They hold universities accountable and call problematic figures into question—like how The Concordian has been following the sexual misconduct allegations at Concordia since they arose. More than a year later, we still use the space in our newspaper to shed light on the allegations, their aftermath, the authority figures involved, and how all of this affects students. Students dedicate their time and effort to investigating these important stories, and break news that affects us all in one way or another. These bundles of papers also provide a space for those who want to participate in reasonable debates.
They’re not non-essential. Frankly, they matter a lot. They’re an integral part of what makes university life so unique. Student newspapers, student groups, centres for minorities—all of these services combined allow different people to come together and function in a space where they can learn and flourish together. They all advocate for students’ interests—isn’t that enough of a reason to consider them important?
If it weren’t for student newspapers, you wouldn’t be able to read this editorial. You wouldn’t be able to read the various stories and events covered by students at our university. You wouldn’t have the opportunity to have your own voice heard. You wouldn’t have the space to call authority figures into question—be it in our own school or in the country. Student newspapers matter. We at The Concordian believe that by giving students the illusion of choice, the Ford government is actually forcing campus newspapers to give up and vanish. Where’s the choice in that?
Graphic by @spooky_soda