Students are allowed to opt out of UMSU Health and Dental Coverage. Why can’t the majority of students opt out of UMSU Membership itself?
Some people may find the above question a bit startling or controversial, but it is based upon the idea that all students should be treated fairly and equally. As free individuals, I believe students should have the final say over where their money goes and what organizations they associate with.
When individuals make the choice to go to university, they also willingly accept that they will pay tuition fees in order to finance the costs of funding the U of M. This is a decision that is made consciously and willingly.
When students pay tuition, they don’t pay for classes they do not wish to take. If you are not studying business, then it follows that you are not required to pay tuition fees to the business faculty. Similarly, if you are not in engineering then you won’t be paying tuition to the engineering faculty. The bottom line is that when you pay tuition you have a choice about where your money goes. When it comes to paying membership fees to the University of Manitoba Students’ Union and the Canadian Federation of Students however, the majority of students have no such choice.
There are some who may argue that students would be negatively affected if student union membership were optional. I disagree. Arguably, the most important service provided by UMSU is the health and dental coverage program. If it were true that optional programs are unsustainable, surely the health and dental coverage program would be unable to function on a voluntary basis.
However, all U of M students already have the choice of opting out of fees for health and dental coverage, and the program still works just fine. The health and dental coverage program is a clear example that voluntary programs can still provide needed services for those who desire them.
Looking at this practically, paying fees to a student union should have no bearing on whether or not you can study at the U of M. U of M professors do not receive their salaries from UMSU funding, nor does UMSU provide our classroom lecture materials or contribute infastructure critical to learning.
Those who support compulsory membership would likely argue that both UMSU and CFS do so much good that all students should support them. If this is indeed the case, then why would they be against voluntary membership? Surely if these organizations do so much good, nobody will want to opt out. I do not believe that just because some people support an organization, others should be denied the right not to associate with it. Furthermore, as we have already seen with the example of the health and dental coverage program, voluntary associations can be quite effective.
Another aspect of concern about mandatory membership, aside from the infringement upon student’s free choice, is the political advocacy of UMSU and CFS. There are many political causes that these groups advocate for and, while there are students who agree with the positions taken by the CFS, there are also many who disagree. Indeed, I would not be surprised if there are some within UMSU who disagree with many things the CFS advocates for. There would be nothing wrong with this, if UMSU and CFS were funded only through voluntary memberships. Since their funding comes from all students however, it would only seem fair for them to avoid taking any politically divisive stances, since they could not possibly represent the diverse views of all the students who pay to keep their operations going.
Student money also goes towards the funding of many student groups. These groups advocate for various social and political causes. Many of them do some great things for the students who are involved in them. Accordingly, the argument in favour of the current policy is that since nearly all groups could be eligible for funding, it’s fine for your money to be used for this purpose. The problem with this is that some groups receive more funding and support than others. This, in my opinion, implies that some groups are favoured more than others. This is contrary to the ideal of equality and fair treatment that should govern the treatment of all individuals.
The fairest way to solve this problem is for all student groups to be financially independent. If students wish to freely donate to a student group that they believe in, they can do so. But you should not be forced, through mandatory membership fees, to give your money to these groups.
This issue comes down to whether or not you as an individual can be trusted to freely choose what groups you associate with and provide money to. Freedom of association is a fundamental right in our country.
The choice of who you associate with and where your money goes should belong to you and you alone.
Spencer Fernando is the comment editor of the Manitoban.