Student Choice Initiative casts doubt on the future of a free student press

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Ontario Premier Doug Ford and his Conservative government recently announced a slew of updates to lower student tuition by reducing post-secondary costs, including the Student Choice Initiative.

The initiative allows post-secondary students to choose which fees to pay, supposedly offering them greater control over their finances. It allows young people to opt out of fees deemed non-essential, which range from student-led clubs to newspapers.

Our editorial board is deeply worried about the impact this will have on Ontario’s campuses.

Services like campus newspapers provide practical employment opportunities, but they also give students a voice and hold our leaders accountable to their constituents.

Not only is the province’s initiative demeaning to the efforts of students shaping their campuses for the better, but, by deeming student journalism non-essential, it threatens freedom of the press, accountability, and transparency in our communities.

Premier Ford’s government operates on the premise of offering all Ontarians employment opportunities, free speech, and institutional accountability. The new initiative does the opposite for the student press, leading to job loss and undercutting mainstays of open discussion. Meanwhile, some of Ontario’s highest public earners will face fading institutional accountability.

With the student press at risk, universities have more to lose than some fees. Student journalists will lose experience and a career path. Marginalized students will lose a platform to share their voices.

Along with our counterparts across the province, we alone report on student politicians hired and fired, sexual assaults in residences, and high-profile sources of university funding. We advocate for working students with full-time course loads and better mental health services on campus. We provide our paid staff members and volunteer contributors with hands-on experience, preparing them to enter the industry in an era when accessible journalism has never been more critical.

At The Queen’s Journal, we employ around 30 students annually, in positions ranging from reporting to editorializing to business to administration. Our staff works into the early hours of the morning on press days for little more compensation than community service and a desire to keep leaders accountable.   

Allowing students to opt out of paying the fees that support outlets like ours allows them to opt out of a key feature of campus democracy.

Student newspapers are more than symbolic—they’re a vital part of campus life.

Countless student services like The Journal enrich our campus, making it more engaging and enjoyable, and filling it with opportunity. Mandatory student fees allow this to continue. Paying into student work means an investment in broader community health.

Student journalism needs a small amount of support to pay its staff, purchase equipment, and order a supply of print copies. That's because university is more than late nights in the library and 8:30 lectures.

Queen’s is special because of its school spirit, extra-curricular activities, and opportunities for leadership, and has been since its foundation. Diminishing that risks the quality of our school as a whole.

Whether it’s at Queen’s or at universities across Ontario, campuses deserve dedicated coverage. If you care about free speech, open discourse, and employment opportunities for young people, it’s time to speak up for freedom of press.

Journal Editorial Board

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