LSPIRG opt-out question remains
Sept. 26 was the last day students were able to opt-out of the Laurier Student Public Interest Research Group (LSPIRG) fee by completing an online form available from the university business office. The $5.11 per term fee has gained some notoriety in the past few years as Facebook campaigns have encouraged students to save their money while LSPIRG has strived to make the merits of their fee clear to the student population at large.
“LSPIRG on campus provides opportunities and resources for students to build their capacity as agents of social change,” said Humera Javed, executive director of the group. The predecessor of LSPIRG began as a campus club and mailing list in 2001.
With a referendum in 2006 it became student-funded and an arrangement was made so that the university would collect annual fees from students unless they chose to opt out.
“We just remit funds to the organization,” said Wilfrid Laurier University’s director of budgets and the business office Ryan Simon. “From there we don’t check on what it’s spent for, the contract doesn’t cover that kind of thing.”
Unlike campus clubs, which must submit a budget for approval by the students’ union, LSPIRG receives funding directly and utilizes its own board of directors and finance committee to allocate money in its budget. Javed admitted that there have been surpluses in years past. The excess funds were put toward resources such as camera equipment that is accessible for students to loan.
Javed emphasized that students can apply for funding to hold events or conduct research. “As long as they can justify that it’s a social change project we’ll help support that,” she said.
“They support different groups and provide funding to these groups but a lot of them are a complete waste of money,” said Ian Merkley, president of the Campus Conservatives.
The Campus Conservatives have been in favour of the opt-out movement citing a lack of information among students about where their money is going. They have also raised concerns about LSPIRG’s financial support of ideologically motivated groups, despite the organization’s explicit non-partisan model.
Merkley also pointed to the total amount LSPIRG ostensibly receives factoring in that Laurier has nearly 15,000 undergraduate students.
“Because it’s really ideologically motivated, it should be an opt-in rather than the other way around – it’s reasonable,” Merkley said, pointing to LSPIRG funds supporting campus groups with a variety of sometimes controversial ideologies.
“I don’t think we’re biased or ideologically inclined one way,” Javed said, explaining that any group can apply for funding so long as they can convince LSPIRG the money will support “social change”.
“We are non-partisan so we don’t take sides.”
Merkley stressed the issue of awareness of LSPIRG’s role for students. “Some people don’t know where their money is going. They should research where it’s going but some students don’t know what LSPIRG even is,” he said.
Javed explained that efforts are being made on the organization’s end to inform students of LSPIRG’s presence and how to take advantage of what the group has to offer.
year of referendum making LSPIRG student-funded
number of current working groups and affiliates supported by LSPIRG
Annual LSPIRG fee charged to each full-time student
She said the lack of information among students about the group’s operations, “Has been a struggle for us since we started, that’s something we’re conscious of and are trying to actively promote on campus.”
She emphasized that students should not arbitrarily opt-out without first thoroughly examining the group.
“We just want students to make informed decisions,” she said. “I think every student should be able to opt out if they don’t feel that LSPIRG provides the value for their money.”