Print Edition: March 5, 2014
I believe strongly that students should support one another.
This is why, every year, I’m one of those rare and weird people who is 100 per cent fine with paying the student fees attached to tuition. I happily pay the U-pass fee despite the fact I only use it a few times a month at best. I happily pay the SUB fee despite the fact I will never step inside the completed building while still a student. I happily pay the health and dental fee despite the fact I have never drawn on that reserve for anything, nor do I expect to. I happily pay the SUS fee because it goes toward a variety of services I believe are important, despite the fact I don’t use many of them. Emergency grants. The community food room. Hosting events. Other people need these services, even if I don’t.
But SUS recently decided to do something with their student fee earnings that I vehemently disagree with.
They’ve decided that from this year forward, they’ll award a $10,000 scholarship to a UFV student.
On the surface, this is a really nice thought: students supporting students. But it begs a couple of questions. What is the need for this scholarship? Where is the money coming from?
There are answers to these questions, which is where SUS and I begin to disagree.
First of all, this scholarship is intended to fill the place of what would be called a “president’s scholarship” or “excellence scholarship” at another university. It’s an entrance scholarship geared toward students with a high grade point average (GPA) and a plethora of leadership and volunteer experience.
You know what? That sounds great. That sounds like something UFV should offer to new students as one of the trappings of a competitive university. This is where the SUS arguments flourish: the recipient of this scholarship is going to be a leader on campus, involved in the community, and supportive of the students around them.
And here’s where the SUS argument falls short — because other universities that offer this type of scholarship fund it themselves. They don’t rely on the student union to do it for them. This might be a wonderful carrot to offer new students, but should it fall on UFV and not SUS.
Every time the topic of this scholarship hits the SUS board table, reps like Thomas Davies are quick to defend it; after all, this scholarship is an expression of SUS’s mandate to support students. That’s certainly true. But the bigger question remains: is it the best expression of that mandate? Let’s face it — it’s not exactly original to set scholarship criteria at high GPA and leadership qualities. The sort of students who qualify aren’t likely to be hurting for cash; there are a plethora of scholarships designed exactly with that demographic in mind.
To put this into another perspective, a little less than eight per cent of SUS’s total budget is allocated to grants and scholarships — about $45,000. This means, at least in part, that any student in dire financial straits can run to SUS for help. Why not tack the $10,000 onto that budget line, to go toward students in need? Those are the students SUS should be supporting — not students who are receiving all the support they need elsewhere.
But perhaps most interesting to me is where SUS plans to get this scholarship funding from.
The campus pub has a long history of sucking up funds, and has suffered from optimistic predictions in the past. Last year, then-manager Brad Ross said he only needed $80,000 to keep the pub running smoothly for a year; that funding reached a critical level by November, and the SUS budget was effectively gutted by a student-driven motion in order to keep the pub open at all. That was the third year of unrealistic predictions, and SUS swore it was the last one.
So what the hell are they playing at now?
But this year is different. This year AfterMath has an operating budget of around $130,000 — plenty of room to play around in. Davies says AfterMath has been running consistently under budget this year and won’t need as large a subsidy next year.
But hold on just a tick. How has AfterMath been running under budget?
They raised their prices, no longer including tax in the price of alcohol. They’re no longer open on Fridays, despite the fact that closing severely limits the food options on campus. They’ve hired students as managers and assistant managers, paying an hourly wage instead of a salary. Initially starting the school year with weekly pub nights on Thursdays, now the pub closes at the regular hour unless a student group books an event. They’ve started charging student groups — and SUS! — to use the space, quoting staff wages in their reasoning.
That’s a lot of ways to cut costs. Or should I say corners?
Ultimately, SUS predicts they’ll be moving the pub into the Student Union Building next year and saving additional costs that way. This may prove to be true — but what if it’s not? A new space may point to higher revenue, but does not guarantee it.
Yet SUS is comfortable using those predicted savings to start a scholarship program. Those predicted savings may never appear, and while building a scholarship is a nice thought, it isn’t even their responsibility in the first place.
I support students, and I know SUS does too, but the road to hell is paved with good intentions.
After all, it’s a nice thought. But that’s all it should be: a thought.