After reading Thomas Sowell’s Basic Economics this summer, I found a reason to feel confident that the Student Choice Initiative (SCI) poses some benefits despite its shortcomings. I am no economics major; however, the incentives the SCI creates for students’ unions might serve to be a major benefit.
I argue that the SCI offers the University of Toronto Mississauga’s Students’ Union (UTMSU) an opportunity to develop its efficacy and its relationship with students, important community members, and influential off-campus actors.
This is not a political argument but simply a way to take this legislation as is and examine the incentives it creates that might benefit the UTM community. This is not to suggest that the SCI itself is not flawed—this is simply taking reality as it is and seeing the potential benefits. Furthermore, this article is specific to the UTM campus alone as I cannot speak beyond our campus. However, the underlying logic of this article can theoretically be applied across different campuses.
Historically, the UTMSU’s funds have been compulsory, meaning that students paid the UTMSU their fees as a mandatory part of tuition (alongside other compulsory fees such as the gym membership fee). This has essentially meant that the UTMSU has not needed to earn these payments, but instead they were always guaranteed. Now, with the SCI, students can choose whether to give these payments to the UTMSU.
The UTMSU uses these fees for service-provision. These include, but are not limited to, free breakfast Wednesdays and their food bank. These services are certainly vital to some students, arguably those in need of financial assistance.
Sowell writes in his book, “In a competitive market […] proposals must convince those particular people whose own money is at stake and who therefore have every incentive to marshal the best available expertise to assess the future before proceeding.”
If the UTMSU has to campaign and advocate for students to provide them with these fees, they must prove to students that their services are indispensable, and this means showing forethought and results for every initiative.
Moreover, if economic actors are forced to earn their money, they are provided incentives to innovate and increase efficiency, fiscal responsibility, and accountability to their consumers. If the UTMSU has to consistently demonstrate their efficiency and productivity with these funds, they have to show results, and this makes accountability to and communication with students an obligation.
This means better communication not only with students in terms of informing and advocating, but also for The Medium as well. As the campus media, The Medium is tasked with keeping the students informed on campus and off-campus activities. This means that the UTMSU will have to better its relationship with The Medium.
Late last year, towards the end of the winter semester, The Medium and the UTMSU seemed to be spatting over questions of accountability, responsibility, and transparency. With the SCI, both organizations have to prove their worth.
This further entails employing cost-cutting and efficiency measures to provide these services, and they might have to reach out to local actors to help fund these services.
The same can be said for local community members. If the UTMSU is strapped for cash, as it understandably might be due to the freedom the SCI provides students, it might have to reach out to the local community for assistance. This means the UTMSU has incentives to build connections with local NGOs, private businesses, and fellow students’ unions.
This means that the UTMSU has the opportunity and incentive to build sustainable iterations with the community beyond just the campus and fellow students’ unions. Again, the UTMSU must prove that they do good work to the community beyond our campus.
And when you look at the relationship the UTMSU has built with our local government, we see that this positive iteration has not been built. The UTMSU, and I would argue many students’ unions, have performed poor politically, and so of course when budgets get tight and politicians have to put their books in order, students’ unions like the UTMSU are inevitably going to face cuts.
If the UTMSU has to find money wherever it can, a good relationship with the mayor’s office and provincial members of parliament’s offices can be advantageous. And not only for financial reasons but for enhancing the relationship the campus has with the Mississauga and GTA community overall.
Starting this year, the UTMSU and other campus service-providers across the GTA and Ontario have to start proving their worth. Every dollar counts when many students already struggle to pay tuition. Competing for scarce resources (read: student fees) incentivizes the UTMSU to innovate and improve its efficiency, relationships, and communication with students, campus media, and off-campus private and public actors. Overall, these are the potential gains that might accrue from the implementation of the Student Choice Initiative.