An open letter on Bill 41

Letters Opinions

To Minister Wilkinson,

The University of Victoria Students’ Society strongly opposes sections of the proposed amendments to the University Act and the College and Institute Act contained in Bill 41. While the primary intent of the proposed amendments address a particular concern — allowing students to disassociate from membership while being required to pay fees that ensure the financial integrity of the student society — the vagueness of language used and the division of fees could enable the government to dictate what services receive funding.

We appreciate the efforts of the government to protect student society fees by clarifying language in the University Act and the College and Institute Act. Student societies, however, are democratically governed organizations that must have the right to operate free from government or administrative interference. All members of the society vote upon all student society fees and their legitimacy rests within this process. Furthermore, we are concerned that differentiating between various fees will further marginalize minority groups that receive essential services from these fees.

All student society fees are democratically approved by students and serve the benefit of the entire student body. Many of the services we provide are integral to the physical and mental health of our communities — especially in providing the resources needed to eliminate barriers already faced by marginalized student populations.

The student-led programming of the Society fills the gap between what the university administration can provide and the complex needs of students. This programming has a better grounding of the realities of student life and provides an equally valuable learning experience as learning that takes place in the classroom. Fees support student travel opportunities for academic learning, student-led networking and philanthropic initiatives, and provide jobs for hundreds of students at our institution. The multitude of impacts this would have on all students cannot be fully expressed in this letter.

All post-secondary students benefit from the work of their student society in ways that aren’t immediately obvious from a glance at a balance sheet. All student society members receive the benefits of an enriched student experience through access to employment opportunities, expanded health services and advocacy, all within spaces that strive to be safe and inclusive. Students that choose to opt out of service fees may come to require the essential services offered by student societies and will be subsidized by students that fund these services. This principle has long been understood as fundamental to the Canadian compromise between individual liberties and collective benefits.

Each of the over thirty student societies in B.C. has a different fee structure. Most, if not all, student societies levy fees that cannot be readily classified into one category or another. Using the current proposed language in Bill 41, the government, post-secondary institutions, and student societies would be required to expend significant resources to sort through the various fees and may even be required to subdivide existing fees. Subdividing existing fees would likely require putting a series of costly and confusing referendum questions out to students, which could put the current funding structures at risk. Furthermore, universities, colleges, and institutes, along with their respective student societies, would have to expend resources handling the opt-out process and differentiating between member and non-member students. This would involve permanently hiring extra staff at each level.

We recommend that the government make changes to Bill 41 to drastically simplify this process while still preserving the right of students to disassociate from their student society. These changes should reflect the current status quo, as we believe that to have been the intent of Bill 41. Considering that throughout history, all our fees have been democratically ratified by the student body, we kindly ask that you preserve the legitimacy of these fees by utilizing a model similar to a “Rand Formula” for student societies.

Signed,

The UVSS Board of Directors