VIPIRG terminates lease with UVSS, moves to Fifth Street office

Campus Local News

Disappointment with current and past UVSS boards stated among reasons for departure

The former offices of VIPIRG, now vacant. Photo by Emily Fagan, Editor-in-Chief

The offices and bulletin boards around room B122 in the Student Union Building (SUB) sit empty, as the Vancouver Island Public Interest Research Group (VIPIRG) abruptly departed on  Friday from the campus they have been apart of for the last 30 years.

On August 26, VIPIRG announced that they terminated their lease agreement with the University of Victoria Student Society (UVSS) due to what they felt was an increasingly unsustainable partnership. The new offices of the non-profit research and education group are located at 2722 Fifth Street. 

“Effective immediately, VIPIRG is ending our professional and financial relationship with the UVSS,” said the announcement from VIPIRG’s board. “We are disappointed with the previous and current actions of the UVSS board.”

As a community-based research group, VIPIRG works to empower marginalized youth through their research, education, and advocacy projects, and has been recognized both nationally and internationally. Since 1989, this work has been done at the University of Victoria through student fees allocated from the UVSS.

Leaving the SUB is something VIPIRG said they have considered for a few years, although the group only started looking for alternative spaces this March.

“Our organization reflected on the amount of time we spent campaigning and how constant battles with the UVSS have continually distracted from the important work that needs to be done in our community.”

VIPIRG Board of Directors

Cited among the reasons for their departure is the referendum called by the UVSS Board of Directors last spring, which asked students if they wished to continue funding VIPIRG through their UVSS student fees. VIPIRG threatened to take legal action against the UVSS board, saying the materials in favor of ending their student fees published by the board contained libelous statements. The referendum to end their fees failed, the results were disqualified and the Chief Electoral Officer recommended that a second referendum be held as the self-advocacy VIPIRG conducted during the election was against UVSS electoral policy.

VIPIRG added that UVSS board members have repeatedly vocalized that they fail to see value in VIPIRG’s ten year community grants program. According to VIPIRG, this program has impacted thousands of Victoria residents and provided seed funding to over 100 organizations and individuals.

Recently, VIPIRG claims that they were prohibited from completing a project regarding sexualized violence on campus due to “significant limitations placed on some colleagues and potential collaborators by the student society.” Specifically, they said that senior members of the UVSS administration had prohibited UVSS employees from being involved in the project in the capacity of paid staff — which VIPIRG said was a large barrier to the continuation of their project.

“The UVSS has repeatedly tried to interfere in VIPIRG’s operations,” VIPIRG’s board said. 

“In light of all this, our organization reflected on the amount of time we spent campaigning and how constant battles with the UVSS have continually distracted from the important work that needs to be done in our community.”

“It’s a huge loss for the SUB community and for the university community.”

Jonathan Granirer, UVSS Director of Outreach and University Relations

VIPIRG said that as of August 26, the UVSS had yet to formally respond to the termination of their lease. As a result of leaving behind their partnership with the UVSS, four student jobs, along with the textbooks and scholarships programs, will be lost. 

Although Jonathan Granirer, UVSS Director of Outreach and University Relations, could not comment on the specifics regarding VIPIRG’s termination of their lease and the timeline of their departure, he feels that VIPIRG has contributed a lot to the community in their time at UVic.

“It’s a huge loss for the SUB community and for the university community,” Granirer said.

“I think there’s gonna be a huge gap that we’re gonna need to think about filling because there’s so many services and campaigns and events that they put on that are so valuable to our community that may no longer be accessible for students.”

Any effort to repair the UVSS’ relationship with VIPIRG will depend on the situation surrounding the lease termination — which Granirer notes was “relatively short notice” — and several other variables he cannot comment on at present time.

As room in the SUB is a commodity, there will have to be discussions as to who will take the vacant offices in the months to come. However, Granirer could not specify a timeline for this. Granirer noted that among potential contenders for the space are the Students of Colour Collective — whose current room, he said, is “essentially … a large closet.” The Food Bank may also be considered, although renovations were just completed on their room this week.

One group Granirer does not anticipate welcoming to the space is an outside food service venue. Whoever next occupies the space, he said, will be chosen after consultation with students.

VIPIRG is still in the process of settling into their new Fifth Street location. However, they feel this move will enable them to reach more youth and residents in Victoria, as they are now walking distance from downtown.

In their announcement, VIPIRG thanked the students, faculty, staff, and volunteers from UVic for their support over the last 30 years.

“Ending our agreement with the UVSS gives our board, staff, and volunteers more time to focus on the important work that needs to be done in the community, without limitations imposed by the UVSS,” wrote VIPIRG’s board.

“We look forward to your continued support as we start this new chapter in VIPIRG’s history.”