The controversial topic of online fee-levy opt-outs is back, as discussions are being pushed by CSU General Coordinator Chris Kalafatidis, who is aiming to get it on a referendum.
Kalafatidis explained that the CSU bylaws allow any student to bring a question to a referendum. All that is needed is to present the question at a meeting, then the student must get 500 signatures from Concordia students. Once that is achieved the question automatically goes onto a referendum.
Kalafatidis requested online fee-levy opt-outs to be put on a referendum at the CSU meeting on Oct. 25.
“As General Coordinator, you have enough influence where you could just go ‘here’s a question council, pass this’ and it goes directly to a referendum,” Kalafatidis said. “Despite being in a position where I could have probably brought this referendum through council, I want to present it myself and get the signatures of 500 students.”
Kalafatidis believes that the effect of online opt-outs will be a positive one. The only thing fee-levy groups have to fear is that students will not know about them. Those that are more exclusionary will have the incentive to spread their services and be more open to students.
Yet, Emily Carson-Apstein, External & Campaigns Coordinator at Sustainable Concordia, was at the meeting as an opponent to Kalafatdis’ presentation. According to Carson-Apstein, online opt-outs will negatively impact fee-levies and the student culture they support.
“It’s really hypocritical for the General Coordinator to take on a project that is going to harm the community,” said Carson-Apstein. “These aren’t people picking and choosing groups. These are people who are opting out of everything without understanding what’s going on.”
Carson-Apstein argued that online opt-outs will defund fee-levy groups immensely. As an argument, she referred to McGill University implementation of online opt-outs as an example of the impact this decision would have on the Concorida student community. According to the McGill Tribune, before 2007, opt-outs were relatively low. The Student Society of McGill University (SSMU), McGill’s version of Concordia’s CSU, had a 0.83 per cent opt-out rate for the Winter semester. But when online opt-out went up, by the next semester, SSMU’s opt-out rate went up to 6.45 per cent.
“The sad thing is that the opt-out numbers across the majority of the fees are consistent,” said SSMU Vice-President and Services Sarah Olle, in an interview with The McGill Tribune back in 2010. “So, I think what this indicates is that people who are opting out are usually blanket opting out.”
Carson-Apstein believes that opt-outs would defund fee-levy services. This will decrease student awareness of fee-levy’s and their benefits, which in turn will cause more students to opt-out, creating a vicious cycle of opt-outs and defunding.
“It’s not a political decision, it’s a financial decision that is uninformed on what these services can offer them,” Carson-Apstein said. “Many fee-levy groups have been created over decades to address student poverty.”
Carson-Apstein explains that while a student would save $50–$60 when they opt-out, if they take advantage of the services fee-levy’s offer, the student will save much more.
“If you go to the People’s Potato every day for a week, you’ve made that money up already,” Carson-Apstein said.
The McGill Tribune interview with Olle said that despite the fee-levy being different, the rate of students opting-out online didn’t change. Students consistently mass-opted-out no matter what the fee-levy provided or cost.
McGill’s Midnight Kitchen, Concordia’s version of the Peoples Potato, charges $3.35 a semester. It had almost the same rate of opt-outs as CKUT, who charge $5.00 a semester.
But as Kalafatidis presented during the meeting, if online opt-outs are implemented, all fee-levies will be conciliated to work towards a system that will benefit all sides and to make sure students know what they are opting out of. He used the People’s Potato as an example; students use it, are aware of it, and those that don’t use that service understand the importance of the People’s Potato, and refrain from opting out as to not take away free food, Kalafatidis said.
“Fee-levy groups never work towards building better relationships with students,” said Kalafatdis. “Having this option to opt-out would put them in a situation where if they are going to be using student money, they are going to have to earn it.”
Yet, Carson-Apstein is worried because once the referendum is counted, the final say will be with the Concordia University Administration.
“Once we put it in the hands of the university, the students won’t have control,” Carson-Apstein said, describing how Concordia websites are infamously hard to use and full of bugs. “If you think about how well Moodle and myConcordia work, the University is not going to make this easy.”
Online opt-outs are not imminent, but the groundwork is being laid. No matter which option students pick, both demand student engagement in the Concordia community.
Photo by Laurence B. D.