By Alex Procyk, October 23 2014 —
Our student union is easily one of the best in Canada. Most of their revenue comes from MacHall instead of students fees, their political advocacy focuses on student issues and they support diverse campus resources.
However, the University of Calgary Students’ Union still garners some criticism. While a lot of that can be chalked up to the political leanings of Alberta’s universities, the idea of mandatory membership in a union is an odd one for students to be concerned about.
While I’m a fan of the SU’s work, the core argument of the naysayers is valid. Membership to any organization should be voluntary. Students shouldn’t be forced to pay SU membership fees.
The SU provides students with opportunities and a sense of community that’s hard to find. Like most people on campus, I’m happy to support them.
But not everyone feels this way. We shouldn’t expect students to share the same views about any campus organization. Just because we’ve chosen to attend the University of Calgary and pay tuition doesn’t mean we should automatically pay fees to a separate bureaucracy with a distinct agenda and outlook.
The SU is a political organization that lobbies the municipal, provincial and federal governments on issues they think students care about. But the SU could use student money to further causes that don’t match the values of all students.
U of C administration tends to avoid political advocacy. They have closer ties with the community and avoid making political choices. But the SU tends to get away with partisan political choices under the auspices of progressive values, even when some students fundamentally disagree with their positions.
Many of the arguments in support of voluntary student associations don’t apply to the U of C’s SU. In Eastern Canada and parts of the United States, there are students’ unions that are clearly corrupt. They focus on divisive political issues like passing resolutions to divest from Israel instead of giving students their money’s worth through services or tuition advocacy. These organizations seem to be more common out east and are certainly making their rounds in the media, like Ryerson University and the University of Toronto.
Students are largely united on certain political positions like tuition fees. Other issues that student unions tackle can be controversial and divisive, like secondary suites. It’s refreshing to see our SU focus on student advocacy and the provision of useful campus services while maintaining a sense of fiscal responsibility. Calgary’s SU is what a students’ association should strive to be.
But just because the union on campus is well run doesn’t mean student membership should be mandatory. Being well organized isn’t an argument for forced participation. Students should always have the ability to opt out of an organization that doesn’t align with their values. I’d be more proud of the SU if I knew that participating in the organization was a choice, not an obligation.
Having voluntary membership might not make our SU stronger, but it will make it more ethical. We need to accept that no matter how good our SU is, some people still won’t want to belong to it.
If you don’t want to be part of a union, it should be your right not to join. Hopefully our student leaders will begin to recognize this.