After finding out classes for the fall will be online, I was not happy. But I did know it was the safest option and figured I would save money on incidental fees. I knew the costs would not completely disappear, but I assumed there was no way we would need to pay for all of the usual facilities, with the majority of students taking online classes. So, on July 17, when I checked my invoice, I was shocked to see that I owed almost $800 for services that I would not be using. I also discovered I was not the only one with this concern.
The president of the University of Toronto, Meric S. Gertler, said, “at least one-third of our undergraduate courses will have an in-person component.” Considering in-person courses have a significantly smaller class size than online, “one-third” of undergraduate classes does not mean one-third of the student population will be attending in-person classes. Therefore, the number of students with a virtual fall semester who will not use the services they are required to pay is still very high.
The two most expensive services for the fall semester are the UTM Athletics and the UTMSU Mississauga U-Pass. Coincidentally, these services are ones that I, along with many other online students, will not use. The UTM Athletics fee for a full-time student per semester is less expensive than last year, but slightly, from $200 to $154.41. Meanwhile, the UTMSU U-Pass is more costly than last year with a $6 increase and rests at $131.39 per semester.
While one can argue that as a local student taking online classes, I can still benefit from the U-Pass by using it for personal reasons; the COVID-19 pandemic has significantly affected my and many individuals’ travel preferences. I don’t feel comfortable using public transit at this time and don’t think I will be for a while. I don’t want to put myself or my family members at risk and don’t believe I should pay for a service that, by accessing it, I would be doing so. I also imagine other local online students at UTM would feel the same way.
Online students are not the only ones who might find these services useless. Students who are taking in-person classes may also not feel comfortable using on-campus gym facilities or taking city transit. As a result, there’s a large number of students who cannot use these services since they will not visit the campus. At the same time, students who can use these services will likely avoid doing so as it increases their risk of contracting the virus. In all likelihood, only a small minority will use the facilities all U of T students will pay.
Many UTM students have created petitions to protest these fees. However, they are often met with backlash from other students. They believe that petitions will not change anything, and based on UTM’s history, I have to agree with them. While the final day to credit/no credit a course for the winter term was extended in April for both UTM and the faculty of arts and sciences students at the St. George campus, the deadline for the downtown campus students was set for a later date. This allowed the faculty of arts and science students to see their final marks before the deadline passed. UTM students were not given this opportunity, and while petitions strove to move the deadline, it was not changed. Similarly, U of T has also ignored petitions created by students across the three campuses to remove the summer semester’s incidental fees. Therefore, considering students still paid for fees when there were no in-person classes, it’s highly unlikely petitions will work now.
So, to summarize, we can’t use the services, and we can’t change the pricing. What can we do? Well, to be honest, not much. I don’t think there is a way to justify the U-Pass being mandatory; however, there’s room for debate on the Athletic fees. The UTM Recreation & Athletics Instagram account began posting fitness challenges, yoga videos, as well as other health and wellness related content almost immediately after the campus closed. While this is a good start, I cannot justify paying $150 for some Instagram posts that anyone else can access. Additionally, during the summer semester, UTM began offering virtual athletic programs to students paying incidental fees and will continue to do so in the fall. However, is it worth the $150, when similar content can be found entirely free online with the rise of fitness YouTubers?
I understand that fees are still necessary with an online semester since UTM has expenses that they will need to pay, but it shouldn’t fall on students to fund services that they cannot use. UTM needs to justify the price tag of the fall semester and get creative to give us our money’s worth.