This fall, opt-in for opt-out

To preserve the diversity of clubs at Queen’s, we should all support opt-out student fees

In both the fall and winter terms, the AMS holds a referendum. During this referendum, students are asked to vote on a slate of student fees. Most of these fees are optional but a few are mandatory.

Many students are not aware of how this process works. For instance, if a student were to vote “yes” for an optional fee, this does not mean they would have to pay a cent.

This fee would merely be available the following year as an optional fee, meaning students would have the freedom to choose whether to pay it or not.

These fees are almost always very small, on the order of $0.25 to $3.00. Yet they represent a fantastic source of revenue for student clubs and organizations.

For instance, I am the co-president of Inquire Publication, a campus publication that has a $0.30 optional fee. Last year, we received over $2,700 from this fee.

This income accounted for over half of our operating budget, which enabled us to provide a valuable volunteer experience for over 30 students.

More peripherally, we attracted and published the opinions of nearly 100 more university students, and our printed publication reached thousands more.

In fact, you can get published right now just by visiting our website and responding to one of our topics.

In other words, this small fee provides a huge number of benefits to Queen’s students.

It contributes to the diversity of the university community, it provides opportunities for students to gain resume-building experience and it helps to penetrate the “Queen’s bubble” by broadening student perspective.

Other fees are equally important. The Good Times Diner utilizes a $0.50 optional fee to provide hot meals to low income individuals in Kingston.

This small fee helps to feed over 30 community members each week. Additionally, it builds town-gown relations and provides leadership and community service skills for many Queen’s students.

Queen’s Legal Aid uses a $5 mandatory student fee to provide free legal services for Queen’s students. Last year, they helped over 500 students with legal issues while providing law students with real-world legal experience.

Queen’s is renowned for the diversity of clubs on campus. This diversity is something really unique to our school and it’s a draw for prospective students as well as employers looking for students with practical experience and academic success.

Furthermore, the opportunities and experiences that these clubs provide help students develop the skills necessary to succeed, which ultimately increases the reputation and standing of our university.

There are those who generally oppose these fees, especially those that are “opt-out.” However, the benefits that clubs with these fees provide vastly outweigh the downsides.

The average four-year degree at Queen’s will cost a student well over $100,000 in direct and indirect costs. The total amount of AMS optional fees, not counting the yearbook fee, is just under $250 over these four years.

This is a tiny investment that produces large, tangible increases in student experience, diversity and the University’s reputation.

Over the past year there has emerged a very real threat to the continuation of this source of experience and diversity at Queen’s.

Voting for these fees used to require several paper documents, meaning only those who actually cared about a club or initiative would take the time to vote. With the move to online voting, those who are otherwise apathetic are much more likely to vote.

This change is a good thing in that more students are represented; however, the misconceptions about the nature of these fees are now more detrimental than ever.

Voting yes for a fee does not necessarily mean that you have to pay it.

This misconception has already caused harm to clubs at Queen’s. The year before online voting, only four per cent of the clubs up for a fee renewal in the winter referendum failed to get a 50 per cent “yes” vote.

When online voting was implemented last year, 38 per cent of clubs that wanted to gain or renew a student fee during the same period were voted down.

The total fees requested by these clubs would have cost the average first-year student less than $10 over their four years here, and the average upper-year student even less.

Yet the loss of these fees has caused over half of the University’s student-run publications to disband. Other clubs who were unsuccessful in renewing or gaining a fee have broken up or have cut back on their initiatives, resulting in the loss of countless opportunities for students.

I am not advocating that a student vote yes to all fees. Take the time to learn about what clubs plan to do with the money from these fees by reading the Journal or visiting the AMS website before the referendum.

At the very least, read the descriptions that clubs provide for the online voting ballot.

Unless you vehemently disagree with a club’s mandate, there isn’t really a good reason to vote no to an optional fee.

Worse, there are those who vote no to all fees, which is essentially a vote against diversity and the future reputation of Queen’s.

If you are indifferent to a fee, vote yes for it. Simply opt-out of the fee the following year if you don’t want to pay it.

But at least give that club or organization the opportunity to impact our community in a positive way.

When in doubt, vote yes.

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