Just what is the Ford government up to these days and what’s to fear when students exercise their right to free speech?
College and university campuses have long been a sounding board for diverse opinions. It depends on which institutions you attend how the political tone in the halls of higher learning plays out. Public institutions for the most part are more democratic and less constrained by ideology. A good many reflect the aspirations of students who wish to bring about social change, to rock the cart and challenge the status quo. For the most part, the status quo is secure with its grip on power and less concerned with a few screaming lefties unless you are the sensitive type contemptuous of “small voices” in opposition. This seems to be the play of the day with the Ford government. If you can’t shut them down in the streets, then why not catch them when they are most dependent of government help and support.
Here’s a bit of back story about the battle of who gets to say what on college campus.
Tami Jeanneret 610 CKTB.
“Post secondary students are responding to the Doug Ford government's mandate that all colleges and universities develop freedom of speech policies by January 1st.
The Canadian Federation of Students says they have long advocated for freedom of speech on campus but adds in recent years "we have seen the concept of free speech co-opted to protect and defend hate speech on campus."
The federation says, "the rhetoric of defending free speech is used to protect racist, homophobic, transphobic and otherwise oppressive discourse on campuses and to silence any dissent against them."
The group also notes all colleges and universities currently have policies that protect free speech as well as student codes of conduct.
The Ford Tories have threatened to pull government funding if any schools fail to comply with their new mandate.”
“During the 2018 election campaign, Doug Ford made a bold promise to protect free speech on university campuses. “We will ensure that publicly funded universities defend free speech for everybody,” Ford said at a campaign event in May 2018. Schools, he said, were placing too many limits on free speech.
In August 2018, Ford, by then Ontario’s premier, followed through on that promise: according to a directive, all post-secondary institutions had to introduce free-speech policies by January 1, 2019 — or face funding cuts.
Last week saw the introduction of a 10 per cent tuition reduction and the option for students to opt out of so-called non-essential fees, which include the levies that support many student newspapers and campus radio stations — important vehicles for free speech.
A reduction in student-generated revenue would come as a major blow to publications such as the Varsity, an award-winning University of Toronto newspaper that has a weekly circulation of 18,000 and has been around since 1880.
“The money we get from a student levy is instrumental for us to be able to not only produce and distribute a newspaper but also fairly pay the people that work for us,” says Jack O. Denton, the paper’s editor-in-chief. Revenue from student fees, he notes, accounts for the majority of its yearly budget and covers the salaries of 27 part-time employees and Denton himself, who is the sole full-time staffer during the school year.”
John Lorinc - Toronto Star
It’s bizarre to watch Ford attempt to convince voters in the People’s Republic of Ontario that he has a mandate to eliminate not just student government, but also the campus newspapers that hold those dues-collecting student groups to account.
As The Varsity, the University of Toronto’s student newspaper, the Tories have now set out the rules that give students the right to opt-out of paying levies for campus clubs and organizations, among them student newspapers.
During last spring’s election, Ford talked frequently about bringing accountability to government and restoring free speech on university campuses. But Ford’s “student choice initiative,” as this policy has been dubbed, may well achieve the opposite.
In fact, it is conceivable that undergrads on some campuses may opt to continue funding student unions while defunding campus media organizations — a result that could allow those organizations to operate with little or no scrutiny.
The notion that a provincial government would have a hand in snuffing out campus journalism is not just ridiculous, but also unprecedented. Even more troubling is the fact that student news organizations are the only media that systematically cover university administrations, faculty and staff unions, and governing councils.
It’s a big file. Ontario spent $6.6 billion on university and college operating costs in fiscal 2017-2018. The post-secondary sector absorbs billions more from tuition and fundraising revenue streams, as well as vast research grants from the federal government. These institutions, moreover, are enormous employers and serve as the stewards of professional education in the province.
Yet the mainstream media’s coverage of this vast and costly sector is slim. Most news organizations have stopped systematically covering university spending and labour relations, except during strikes. Research breakthroughs and large philanthropic gifts generate hits of coverage. In the main, only campus news organizations have the mandate and the contacts to provide thorough coverage, some of which becomes raw material for the daily press.
Case in point: a series of recent investigative stories by Ryerson University’s Eyeopener about thousands of dollars of alleged spending irregularities by members of the student union executive. The Star has picked up the story, reporting last week about the union’s move to approve a forensic audit of $700,000 in spending.
I spoke with Ken Stowar program director and station manager of CIUT 89.5 FM for clarity of this subject and he referred me to his statement on CIUT 89.5 web page.
UNIVERSITY OF TORONTO COMMUNITY RADIO INC.
AND THE “STUDENT CHOICE INITIATIVE”
The Ontario Government has announced the introduction of the “Student Choice Initiative”. This will affect student levies that support campus services and organizations that have not been designated as “essential” as outlined in the new policy. As it stands right now campus media (radio, newspapers) have not been categorized as such. This could jeopardize the future of our radio station not to mention freedom of speech and expression. In July 2019 it will be compulsory for all U of T undergraduate students to go online and indicate what services and groups they wish to opt-out of supporting. Student levies make up roughly 50% of the radio stations revenue. The fees we collect from undergrad students helps CIUT-FM cover its annual operating budget. Included in the budget are fixed costs such as transmitter site rental fees, music royalties, salaries, etc. A significant loss of revenue would put CIUT-FM at risk to the point of collapse or become unrecognizable as we know it today. CIUT-FM is the last FM campus community radio service in Toronto, and therefore an opt-out is not acceptable for our organization. We remain firm in our belief that CIUT-FM is an essential and vital voice for the community on campus and at large. In part, our mission is to deliver the best programming we possibly can. We strive to meet the expectations of the CRTC and our audience by broadcasting the best alternative to mainstream and CBC radio. Our music and spoken word programming are unique, distinct, and crucial.
Please contact your local Member of Provincial Parliament (MPP) immediately. Let them know what is at stake. You can ask them to stop the Student Choice Initiative and/or to have campus media included as an “essential” service. You can find out which MPP you need to contact by going to ola.org/en/get-involved/contact-mpp and/or you may contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The formal framework for the “Student Choice Initiative” has yet to be delivered. Apparently, this will happen sometime in March, but no specific date has been provided by the Ontario Government.