The campus press is an essential service

Student Choice Initiative will risk student newspapers unless universities step in

Sherriff-Scott aruges student services deserve protection.
A policy shift buried under the recent changes to OSAP and tuition in Ontario could severely threaten the campus press in this province. 
 
Though the Progressive Conservatives’ reforms are headline-grabbing reversals of the previous Ontario government’s agenda, the Student Choice Initiative could impact campus life just as dramatically.
 
Under the new policy, students will be given the choice to opt-out of certain fees. The aim is to allow students to choose which student fees they want to pay to reduce provincial costs. Fees for “essential campus health and safety initiatives” will continue to be mandatory. Individual institutions will then decide what else will remain mandatory.
 
The problem with the initiative is universities across Ontario have an array of non-essential—while extremely valuable—services paid for by mandatory student fees, and that’s because they serve broader student interests. Plus, most of them were established through democratic referenda. 
 
Those services are now in jeopardy. The Journal—a 146 year-old institution—is one of them. More than 40 student publications across this province are too. 
 
It remains to be seem how dramatic the impacts will be on student publications arbitrarily deemed “non-essential” by the province. But what is sure is that without mandatory fees supporting them, they’ll be strained, if not unable to continue operating. 
 
The campus press isn’t just worth saving. It’s essential to university life. 
 
Often times, student-run newspapers are the only sources of direct local news on post-secondary campuses. They serve a critical role in the accountability of university administrations, student governments and the broader community. 
 
Not only do student newspapers serve public interest, they’re also one of the greatest sources of new talent for Canadian media. Undermining that risks Canadian journalism. 
 
If you don’t believe me, all it takes is a quick look at the work of journalists who got their start at student newspapers. 
 
In 2017, Victoria Gibson, a reporter for The Globe and Mail and recent Journal alumni, published an investigative series in The Toronto Star detailing the transfer of abusive teachers from school to school across Ontario. 
 
As a result of her story, provincial law changed. Now, teachers who are found guilty of sexually abusing students will automatically have their licences revoked, rather than be shuffled to a different school.
 
Robyn Doolittle—author of The Globe and Mail’s landmark Unfounded series—also got her start in the campus press. Her investigation into how police deal with sexual assault cases prompted law enforcement agencies across the country to review more than 37,000 of their case files.
 
Doolittle wrote in a tweet last week if it hadn’t been for The Eyeopener, Ryerson University’s independent student newspaper, she “almost certainly” wouldn’t be working at The Globe and Mail.
 
Recently, Brendan Kennedy, a former Journal Editor in Chief and Toronto Star investigative reporter, published a series of articles following the case of refugee Ebrahim Toure, and thousands like him, arbitrarily detained by the Canadian government. After spending more than five years indetention, Kennedy’s series led to Toure's release
 
What the Ford government doesn’t understand—or understands all too well—is campus newspapers are essential to the future of journalism in this country. 
 
Leaving the survival of student publications up to the institutions they cover sets a dangerous precedent.
 
In a statement last week, the Canadian University Press raised concerns that “it will be up to the institutions” to decide if the very media that covers them is essential. 
 
Queen’s now has to make a choice: either save the independent press on campus, or leave its fate with the provincial government that has its staffers clap to drown out the questions of reporters. 
 
The Journal isn’t alone. If universities across this province don’t step in and protect the campus press by deeming it an essential service, the consequences for Canadian journalism will be catastrophic.
 
Queen’s Senate and Board of Trustees must recognize an independent press as essential to protecting free speech on campus. 
 
The Student Choice Initiative is a threat to student papers across Ontario. It shouldn’t be treated otherwise.
 
Iain is a fourth-year history major and former news editor at The Journal.
 

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