The Varsity, one of U of T’s main newspapers and Canada’s second-oldest student newspaper, is asking undergraduate students to vote on whether they approve of the request to increase the per-student levy that goes to fund them by $1, raising it to $3.72 per year, in addition to the annual cost of living increase.
Following the procedure described in U of T’s official policy for compulsory non-academic incidental fees, and as outlined in the Handbook for Student Societies, The Varsity is holding a tri-campus referendum for undergraduates to vote online at voting.utoronto.ca from January 28 to 30.
Varsity Publications Inc., a non-profit organization that exists independently of the university, runs the newspaper, which is distributed to all three campuses. They get their money from the student levy, which contributes approximately 40% of the revenue, and from advertising, which contributes the remainder.
When The Varsity was incorporated in 1980, the levy was $1.50, which would have grown to $4.60 now if it had kept pace with inflation.
The company holds two types of financial referenda. There’s the “real-dollar increase”, which is what The Varsity is holding this year, and then there’s the “index to inflation”, which was last done in 2007. The index to inflation referendum addresses whether to allow the levy should go up by whatever the Bank of Canada determines the cost of living to be, which is typically about 2% per year.
A referendum in 2007 established a cost of living increase, so that every year The Varsity’s levy goes up automatically to keep up with inflation.
When the levy was indexed in 2007, the levy was $2.50. Since then, the levy has increased by three cents due to inflation.
Murad Hemmadi, the editor-in-chief of The Varsity, cited declining revenue as one reason The Varsity’s board of directors from last year suggested to this year’s board that they call a referendum, which Hemmadi is now spearheading.
Since the financial crash of 2008, revenue has decreased by approximately 50% across the whole newspaper industry. “Our advertising revenue is declining and our levy is not increasing to keep pace with that, so basically we have less money, [and have] for the last few years,” said Hemmadi. Last year, The Varsity’s revenue was approximately $200,000. In 2007/08, that number was $400,000.
“The second reason is we’re trying to expand what we do,” said Hemmadi, who wants to create more coverage of the Mississauga and Scarborough campuses.
Last January, The Varsity launched their new website, which gives them a place to publish videos, podcasts, infographics, and other materials. However, it comes at a cost.
“The dollar increase would allow us to [continue to] do that,” said Hemmadi.
The average levy per full-time student for a student newspaper in Canada is $8.21, which is three times The Varsity’s current levy.
“If we wanted to match other papers across the country, we’d ask for a $6 increase,” said Hemmadi. “That’s not what we want; we want a little bit more to continue to grow. We don’t want to put a much bigger financial burden on people. We do need the money, but we can make do, and we’ve been doing that for a while.”
Hemmadi said that should this referendum pass, The Varsity won’t be asking for more money within the next five years, because “the increase will carry us for a while”.
The Varsity, sometimes referred to as “U of T’s unofficial journalism school”, is fully student-run.
Created in 1880 and now in its 131st year, The Varsity publishes every Monday during the school year and circulates a total of 20,000 copies a week to all three campuses.
Students will be able to login at any time during the voting period with their utorid and password and vote on the referendum question.
“Our quality determines how many people read us. The quality of our paper is tied in some way to money. The more resources you have, the better the produc[t] you put out,” said Hemmadi. “I think that’s clear in every paper across the country, and I think we’re very proud of what we do with the amount we have.”