Before I had access to the Medium office, I too used to circle the library, weaving in and out of the stacks hoping to find a piece of floor to spread out my books. In our little corner of the woods, UTM has little space in which to expand. Luckily, the new Instructional Building has alleviated some of the congestion for students looking for a place to eat lunch and cram in a last-minute study session.
On the other end of campus, student accommodations aren’t as luxurious. The Student Centre is cramped. The Medium has one of the larger offices in the building, and even we don’t have enough space to accommodate all our staff and equipment. I walk past the narrow corridors of club offices and I wonder: are most of the rooms vacant because the clubs don’t regularly use the offices, or is it because the space is so small that it’s unusable?
Clubs host events all over campus, from the atrium in CCT to the lecture halls in Davis (I still call it South). Do we need a larger hub for clubs and societies? Would you use the Student Centre more if it was expanded? More importantly, how much are you willing to pay for a larger building?
While word has spread over the past week about UTMSU’s Student Centre expansion project, I have yet to meet a student who knows the finer details. Yes, you know they promised more study space. Yes, you know there’s a temporary increase in tuition fees. But how much money will these promises cost?
In speaking with a union campaigner, I was informed that the fee increase would only cost an extra $27 and it would be cancelled after three years. We captured this on film in this week’s feature video. When I clarified that there is also a permanent increase and that the fee she described is for one semester, not one year, she seemed confused.
Students have been told that the increase is per-session, but even I didn’t really know what “session” referred to until about a week ago. The editorial team and I spent quite a bit of time looking for clarification. A session is one semester. That means the fee isn’t just being increased by $27. The tuition levy will increase to $100 for the combined fall and winter sessions—one full academic year. As I don’t know very many students that attend UTM for only one semester a year, this explanation makes more sense. Currently, UTMSU collects $25 in total from fall and winter tuition fees. That’s a $75 increase.
About three fifths of that figure is temporary. The permanent increase, which will nearly double the tuition levy that UTMSU collects, will generate more than $250,000 per year in revenue for the student union. The preamble stipulates that this increase is “to maintain the operations of the Student Centre and to fund addition programming and activities in it”.
Apparently this is also for past maintenance that UTMSU could not afford. They did, on the other hand, classify the summer U-Pass project an emergency, and used the contingency fund—UTMSU’s emergency reserve finances—to pay for the program. Then why wasn’t this maintenance considered an emergency? Students have been expressing concern over the crumbling roof for years.
As for the additional fees for “programming and activities”, I wanted to know what this has to with the construction of a new section. The answer I received from UTMSU executives: this was included in the last Student Centre referendum, so they’re including it again in this one, since “it’s nothing new”.
To avoid any misconceptions, I will very explicitly state that I am not against the expansion project. Where else can students go to breakdance between classes?
As far as I know, this is one of the best deals negotiated between the university and the student union. The university has agreed to match the student contribution dollar-for-dollar, up to $2 million. When the RAWC was constructed, student fees contributed to two thirds of the cost. Now, with enrolment estimated to increase by 3,000 over the next three years, UTM students could find themselves sitting in cramped library stacks again.
In my fifth year at UTM, I’ve never seen the campus more alive and vibrant with engaged students. But there’s a difference between engaged and aware. As you’ll see from this week’s feature video, many students know the reasons why the Student Centre needs to be expanded. Almost every interviewee cited the need for more leisure space, better service at the Blind Duck Pub, and events hosted by clubs. Their reactions became noticeably different when they realized they hadn’t seen the actual blueprints and allocation of space or been informed about the extent of the increase.
An expansion project would provide a number of benefits, which I won’t explain because they are already splashed across posters and flyers around campus. What isn’t displayed on promotional material is the extent of the fee increase, and that’s the issue on which you’re actually voting.
If you head to the polls this week, you won’t find a ballot question asking you if you want to increase study space. That’s a no-brainer. The question will ask you if you want to quadruple the fees you pay to UTMSU for three years, then go back down to double permanently.
After reading about the fee increases in The Medium’s coverage last week, a commerce student took to UTMSU’s Facebook page and demanded answers. He claimed that students had been deceived.
The language used in the article is very clear. It describes the fee increase on both a sessional and annual basis to illustrate the bigger picture. If students are confused, then it’s because of the way the campaign is marketed.
Read the fine print before you make a decision. If you wait until you’re standing at the voting booth, it will be too late. In haste to get to class on time, you’ll check off a box when all the information you’ve received is to “vote yes”.