Graduate Student Union Executive considers defunding campus-based social and environmental justice student group
The Executive of the University of Toronto’s Graduate Student Union (GSU) is considering defunding the Ontario Public Interest Research Group (OPIRG). Though they have not made a final decision, the GSU Executive has indicated that they may withhold funds already collected through a small fee levy and owed to OPIRG under the terms of an agreement it holds with the GSU. Such a measure would be a breach of this agreement and would make OPIRG’s diverse and important campus-based programming impossible.
Graduate students at the University of Toronto have supported OPIRG since 1982, when they enthusiastically approved OPIRG’s founding levy. Over the last thirty years, this levy – $5/year per graduate student – has fueled countless initiatives that serve graduate students. These initiatives have included campaigns for smaller class sizes, greater research autonomy, better pay for graduate student workers, and a campus free of discrimination and oppression. OPIRG has also actively fostered intellectual and scholarly opportunities for graduate students by hosting events, trainings, research opportunities, and free public lectures including – most recently – one by acclaimed anti-racist feminist scholar Sunera Thobani.
Although the annual contribution of individual graduate students to the OPIRG levy amounts to less than the expense of one daily commute on the TTC, the levy itself constitutes a significant portion of OPIRG’s operating budget. Withdrawing these funds would have a devastating impact on OPIRG’s operations.
OPIRG has relied on support from the GSU through the fee levy for decades. However, this year, the GSU Executive informed OPIRG that it had concerns with clerical errors in an ad OPIRG published providing information about how students can opt out of support for OPIRG and receive a refund of the fee levy. Though OPIRG believes that the errors in question in the ad were not material, the organization has purchased a new ad in The Varsity (U of T’s campus paper) to provide students with information of the opt-out option and will be processing fee levy refunds without appointments for any graduate students. OPIRG has gone above and beyond what it is required to do in order to satisfy any legitimate concerns that the GSU Executive may have about the opt-out process. However, the GSU has not yet confirmed that it will provide the fees it has already collected from graduate students to OPIRG. This suggests that the GSU’s reluctance to hand over OPIRG’s funding is not about any clerical errors in an ad regarding the opt-out process but, rather, might be politically motivated. In fact, some GSU Executive members have alleged that graduate students do not support OPIRG’s environmental and social advocacy work.
We believe graduate students do support OPIRG. Graduate students have always been publicly informed of the possibility of individually opting out of the levy at any time during the academic year (though the current GSU Executive has failed to mention this on their own website). Nevertheless, significantly fewer than 1% of graduate students opt out of OPIRG annually. Last year, only 0.08% of graduate students opted out. This suggests that there is a lack of interest in defunding OPIRG. Please encourage the GSU Executive to support OPIRG and its long-standing commitment to graduate students’ actual priorities.
Five things you can do to support OPIRG!
1. Contact the GSU Executive and encourage them not to defund OPIRG.
Phone: 416-978-2391 or 416-946-8699
GSU Executive email addresses: firstname.lastname@example.org, email@example.com, firstname.lastname@example.org, email@example.com, firstname.lastname@example.org, email@example.com, firstname.lastname@example.org, email@example.com, firstname.lastname@example.org, email@example.com, firstname.lastname@example.org.
Feel free to use the following form email. Please cc: email@example.com.
Dear Representatives of the GSU Executive,
As a member of the University of Toronto community, I urge you not to defund the Ontario Public Interest Research Group. OPIRG offers a vital and unique space on the U of T campus. To defund OPIRG on the basis on a minor clerical error that has since been remedied is plainly unfair.
Your name and campus affiliation
2. Contact OPIRG to express your support. Visit the OPIRG office at 563 Spadina, Suite 101 (North Borden Building), email firstname.lastname@example.org or call us at 416-978-7770.
3. Talk to your student representatives and course unions. Let them know that you support OPIRG. Attend the next meeting of your departmental student association or union and encourage your colleagues to support OPIRG. We are happy to send a representative to speak to your group; simply write to us at email@example.com.
4. Send this message to your departmental email lists, faculty, colleagues and friends.
5. Attend OPIRG events! Meet other students who understand that OPIRG contributes an indispensable campus forum for education, research and action around issues of social and environmental justice!
Thank you for your support!