While student unions exist to serve and represent the best interests of students, an argument against their mandatory nature seems to be slowly gaining steam across the country, and for interesting reasons.
In a 2011 report entitled “The Case for Voluntary Student Unionism,” published by the Frontier Centre for Public Policy, Canadian academic Jonathan Wensveen had choice words about union membership on university campuses.
Among his more inflammatory suggestions, Wensveen posits that compulsory student union membership violates not only the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, but likewise the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights on the grounds of free association — a loaded charge to be sure.
However, this is merely a secondary observation of Wensveen’s, as it seems his primary concern is that compulsory membership is unnecessary.
“The reality is that the vast majority of the goods and services that student unions provide could easily be provided by voluntary organizations, which individual students could either belong to or not as suited their preferences,” Wensveen said.
To his credit — and despite his wild views on the legality of student unions — he does make a fair enough point. Even if they exist to provides goods, services and representation to students, perhaps some would rather pass on handing over their union fees.
The University of Saskatchewan Students’ Union works for the students — and is paid quite handsomely to do so — but if some students would rather decline their services, more power to them. After all, you can opt out of other fees, right?
Well, not quite. While students are able to opt out of the transit fee as well as dental and health fees, you can’t simply choose to do so. There are eligibilities involved and you need an alternate plan to opt out of medical coverage. It’s not like you can opt out of the USSU and join the other student union with equal bargaining power. So that’s not exactly a fair comparison.
Then again, looking strictly at the U of S, voter turnout is regularly disgraceful. If people can’t be bothered to vote, their interest level in what the USSU does for them is likely non-existent. If they don’t care about what the USSU does for them, why should they have to pay?
Again, this argument seems to make sense but doesn’t. While saying you wouldn’t or already don’t take advantage of the USSU’s services may seem easy, it’s almost guaranteed to be untrue. Much like the Sheaf, even if you don’t enjoy their services, you almost certainly utilize them from time to time. Plus, in the real world you can’t get out of paying taxes by picking and choosing what communal resources you want to use.
There’s one final argument against compulsory membership. When a single entity represents a student body that is richly diverse in many ways, some are bound to feel misrepresented.
The Students For Life Club at Brandon University in Brandon, MB, is currently suing the BU Student Union for discrimination after their club status was revoked. This is no anomaly in Canada and in complete sincerity, I have to feel for them.
Regardless of my views or anyone else’s, it’s unfortunate for those students that the organization they mandatorily pay to be a part of shut their club down because its politics made the BUSU “uncomfortable.” Given the circumstances, I can only imagine the members of the club would prefer the ability to choose if they wanted to be in the union or not.
However — even in this situation — I still have to come down on the side that union membership must remain compulsory. The fact that a union doesn’t represent the views of all students equally is simply a flaw in representation, and one that can, if deemed necessary, be easily remedied internally. Quitting the union to protest its values doesn’t accomplish much.
In sum, it seems like even if we don’t like our student unions, compulsory membership is still the only way to go. That’s okay though. We can complain about them until we’re blue in the face — after all, we pay for them.
Zach Tennent / Opinions Editor
Graphic: Lesia Karalash / Graphics Editor