The proposed tuition levy increase

Before I had access to the Medium office, I too used to circle the library, weaving in and out of the stacks hoping to find a piece of floor to spread out my books. In our little corner of the woods, UTM has little space in which to expand. Luckily, the new Instructional Building has alleviated some of the congestion for students looking for a place to eat lunch and cram in a last-minute study session.

On the other end of campus, student accommodations aren’t as luxurious. The Student Centre is cramped. The Medium has one of the larger offices in the building, and even we don’t have enough space to accommodate all our staff and equipment. I walk past the narrow corridors of club offices and I wonder: are most of the rooms vacant because the clubs don’t regularly use the offices, or is it because the space is so small that it’s unusable?

Clubs host events all over campus, from the atrium in CCT to the lecture halls in Davis (I still call it South). Do we need a larger hub for clubs and societies? Would you use the Student Centre more if it was expanded? More importantly, how much are you willing to pay for a larger building?

While word has spread over the past week about UTMSU’s Student Centre expansion project, I have yet to meet a student who knows the finer details. Yes, you know they promised more study space. Yes, you know there’s a temporary increase in tuition fees. But how much money will these promises cost?

In speaking with a union campaigner, I was informed that the fee increase would only cost an extra $27 and it would be cancelled after three years. We captured this on film in this week’s feature video. When I clarified that there is also a permanent increase and that the fee she described is for one semester, not one year, she seemed confused.

Students have been told that the increase is per-session, but even I didn’t really know what “session” referred to until about a week ago. The editorial team and I spent quite a bit of time looking for clarification. A session is one semester. That means the fee isn’t just being increased by $27. The tuition levy will increase to $100 for the combined fall and winter sessions—one full academic year. As I don’t know very many students that attend UTM for only one semester a year, this explanation makes more sense. Currently, UTMSU collects $25 in total from fall and winter tuition fees. That’s a $75 increase.

About three fifths of that figure is temporary. The permanent increase, which will nearly double the tuition levy that UTMSU collects, will generate more than $250,000 per year in revenue for the student union. The preamble stipulates that this increase is “to maintain the operations of the Student Centre and to fund addition programming and activities in it”.

Apparently this is also for past maintenance that UTMSU could not afford. They did, on the other hand, classify the summer U-Pass project an emergency, and used the contingency fund—UTMSU’s emergency reserve finances—to pay for the program. Then why wasn’t this maintenance considered an emergency? Students have been expressing concern over the crumbling roof for years.

As for the additional fees for “programming and activities”, I wanted to know what this has to with the construction of a new section. The answer I received from UTMSU executives: this was included in the last Student Centre referendum, so they’re including it again in this one, since “it’s nothing new”.

To avoid any misconceptions, I will very explicitly state that I am not against the expansion project. Where else can students go to breakdance between classes?

As far as I know, this is one of the best deals negotiated between the university and the student union. The university has agreed to match the student contribution dollar-for-dollar, up to $2 million. When the RAWC was constructed, student fees contributed to two thirds of the cost. Now, with enrolment estimated to increase by 3,000 over the next three years, UTM students could find themselves sitting in cramped library stacks again.

In my fifth year at UTM, I’ve never seen the campus more alive and vibrant with engaged students. But there’s a difference between engaged and aware. As you’ll see from this week’s feature video, many students know the reasons why the Student Centre needs to be expanded. Almost every interviewee cited the need for more leisure space, better service at the Blind Duck Pub, and events hosted by clubs. Their reactions became noticeably different when they realized they hadn’t seen the actual blueprints and allocation of space or been informed about the extent of the increase.

An expansion project would provide a number of benefits, which I won’t explain because they are already splashed across posters and flyers around campus. What isn’t displayed on promotional material is the extent of the fee increase, and that’s the issue on which you’re actually voting.

If you head to the polls this week, you won’t find a ballot question asking you if you want to increase study space. That’s a no-brainer. The question will ask you if you want to quadruple the fees you pay to UTMSU for three years, then go back down to double permanently.

After reading about the fee increases in The Medium’s coverage last week, a commerce student took to UTMSU’s Facebook page and demanded answers. He claimed that students had been deceived.

The language used in the article is very clear. It describes the fee increase on both a sessional and annual basis to illustrate the bigger picture. If students are confused, then it’s because of the way the campaign is marketed.

Read the fine print before you make a decision. If you wait until you’re standing at the voting booth, it will be too late. In haste to get to class on time, you’ll check off a box when all the information you’ve received is to “vote yes”.



Stefanie Marotta

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  1. That was fun. My favourite part was when the campaigners for UTMSU spread misinformation.

    Betcha the CRO isn’t gonna care!

    My second favourite part is when the guy asked if the execs were going to cut their salaries…

    But for serious. I am curious as to why UTMSU thinks they can sneak in doubling their regular ‘programming and activities’ levy without justification. And why they think they can openly lie to students about how much money they will be spending.

  2. They should be planning more long-term – the levy they collect every year should allow them to put money into capital reserve to fund special projects. Raise it by $25 (or something) permanently as a long-term investment in the school and sock the surplus away. Expecting a particular cohort of students to fund the expansion when they won’t see the benefits is asking for a lot of good faith, especially from a union that hasn’t demonstrated exemplary fiscal responsibility. I mean, when is the contingency fund going to be replenished? Has the Blind Duck ever even broken even? That place is packed all the time and it still has to get a major subsidy.

    UTMSU is not evil but they are seriously misguided, and handing misguided people a few million is going to turn out badly.

    Also – UTMSU, c’mon, challenge yourselves and raise the voter quota. I mean, if we can get the majority of Canadians to the polls, surely you can get half of UTM students stop at a booth that is already on their way to class.

  3. As a student that regularly uses the student centre and its resources i can tell you the student center needs to be expanded. Reading this article I can’t help but think that the writer is biased. Yes UTMSU didn’t push their marketing with the fee increase portion, but they had to give themselves the best chance to make this campaign work. I know and you know that students would vote against this proposed expansion if they heard that their fees would be increased by even 10 dollars. UTMSU have been open about questions concerning fees from day 1 and due to misinformation by certain individuals, it seems like they were trying to hide the fee increase when they really weren’t. UTMSU have been working hard to try to expand the student centre for so many years and their efforts shan’t be in vain. The medium should be one of the main supporters of this referendum but instead you are here blasting the very same building your office is in. I know your job is to give information to the public no matter what, but common don’t be too one sided about it.

    • Student union should be representing the student body and its interest. Selectively markting facts in campaigns is not in the best interest of the students, it is in the best interests of the campaigners themselves. Students should be informed of ALL facts, prior to making a decision.

      I don’t think The Medium is exactly blasting the building, they(we?) are asking questions. If you take a look at the video you can see how students are starting to understand what we are asking. Programs and activities? What exactly, what budget, how much is going to clubs? Expansion? How much bigger? Where? Why is the decision to permanently increase fees coupled with the temporary increase? Why can’t we have them as 2 separate questions? Why are campaigners stating that once the $2 million is reached the fee will be stopped? If UTMSU have been working hard for many years, why are these details not released? Why is the blueprint not released?

      There are too many questions and not enough answers.

      I’d also like to add that this is an editorial piece, as opposed to a news article.

  4. come on guys (utm students), you pay $5000+ on tuition a year, not including textbooks etc, what is an extra hundred gonna do to you? Quit the whining

    • At the end of the day, I also don’t give a damn about an extra hundred, and from what I gathered by reading/watching student responses, most of them don’t either. The whining is directed at a larger scope of things…

      • What exactly is the whining directed to then? The fact that the construction won’t be completed before they graduate? I don’t blame them for their opinions, but putting money to invest in the campus for future students is important, otherwise how can any projects for improving the campus get completed? As for the so-called lack of info, why don’t they just ask a member of student union? I guess i’m just confused as to what they are complaining about, cause none of those reasons seem relevant….

        • The fact that those campaigning are giving out false answers? The fact that attached to this question about expanding the student center is a PERMANENT increase nearly doubling what UTMSU gets to spend on whatever they consider as ‘programming’? The fact that UTMSU hasn’t been the most transparent of organizations with discussing what the money will be used for?

          I think that those questions alone are good enough to question if not vote no for.

          But I would like to send my congrats to the UTMSU team for once again winning a referendum through non-education and sketchiness. Way to go team!

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