An Op-Ed Opposing Opt-Outs

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When I first heard of McGill’s online opt-out system, I was eager to take advantage of the opportunity to spend less on tuition fees. In order to make an informed decision regarding which fees I should opt out of, I looked into what these non-obligatory fees were all about. 

For those unfamiliar, McGill’s online opt-out system allows students to opt-out of certain fees for a variety of programs. This can be done during add/drop, a two-week period at the start of each academic semester. Introduced in 2007, McGill Deputy Provost Morton Mendelson describes how the option was created in an attempt to give rise to “greater transparency and more timely service.”

The decreasing rate of student levies has led to a reduction in funding for McGill programs, thereby hindering their ability to serve the McGill student body.

Since this system’s inception, an increasing number of students have chosen to opt out of optional fees every semester. The opt-out rate is also consistent across the majority of fees, which suggests that most students that are opting out are doing so out of all fees, rather than a select number of programs that they do not personally agree with or use themselves. The decreasing rate of student levies has led to a reduction in funding for McGill programs, thereby hindering their ability to serve the McGill student body. This has made me realize the importance of remaining opted-in.

I believe that opting out is akin to saying that you shouldn’t have to pay for health care, because you don’t currently have a health issue, or shouldn’t have to pay taxes that are invested in public transportation, because you drive a car. As members of a community, many of our tax dollars are invested in programs which we may never personally use. Yet, we largely agree that paying taxes to support public programs like health care, public transport, and infrastructure is an obligation required of all citizens. Likewise, opting-out of optional fees, which support programs that are not necessarily beneficial to all students, undermines the richness of the entire student body.

By opting in to these services, we can preserve and continue the long history of passionate students bringing issues of marginalized groups to the forefront.

Student levies fund a variety of student clubs, organizations, and services that provide much-needed support to McGill students and enhance our overall university experience. For instance, organizations like Black Students’ Network (SSBN) and Arab Students’ Network (SSAS) provide resources and support, and promote awareness and discussion of race issues and Arab culture. Even if you don’t actively participate in or directly benefit from these services, opting in provides students with more assistance and information, enabling them to more easily integrate into McGill culture. By opting in to these services, we can preserve and continue the long history of passionate students bringing issues of marginalized groups to the forefront. These are valuable experiences that the McGill community should be able to offer to its students.

In addition to offering essential support to students, many of the ‘opt-outable’ services on campus provide opportunities for students to gain a well-rounded education. Opting out can, and already has, limited the quality and quantity of jobs and other volunteer opportunities offered on campus. These potential experiences would be valuable for students in future employment and would enable them to develop a variety of soft skills. For instance, CKUT, the McGill radio station which has been in existence since 1986, reported staff members quitting, “given the overwhelming workload and miniscule remuneration offered by CKUT.” Being involved in campus activities and organizations is highly conducive to a positive university experience and strong academic performance.  

Based on my personal survey, some students opt-out of fees as a form of protest to the quality or administration of certain services. In particular, some students opt-out of paying the mental health fees to critique our school’s persistent lack of timely and effective mental health services. However, if mental health services offered at McGill are of poor quality, this is arguably a result of them being underfunded and understaffed. Opting-out of these fees will only further deteriorate the quality of such services.

Writing open letters to McGill or bringing your complaints to the Dean or the Ombudsperson for students are all effective means of expressing discontent and soliciting beneficial changes.

 Furthermore, if some students wish to show their disapproval of the quality of mental health services, such as the Peer Support Centre (SSPC) and the Mental Health fee (SSMM), there are more productive ways of doing so. Writing open letters to McGill or bringing your complaints to the Dean or the Ombudsperson for students are all effective means of expressing discontent and soliciting beneficial changes. Accordingly, I submit that the most harmful means of showing your dissatisfaction with any of the McGill services is to opt out, as doing so effectively contributes to the problem.  

As a student, I understand the financial stress that comes with paying tuition fees on top of all our other expenses. It’s understandable to want to save money in any way you can and it’s tempting to think that withdrawing your small contribution to these programs won’t make a difference. That being said, we must remind ourselves that opting out increasingly threatens to deteriorate the accessibility and effectiveness of programs on campus, as a smaller and smaller pool of people are contributing per semester. I believe that investing approximately $60 per semester in optional fees is well worth it to support the quantity and quality of the optional McGill programs available to its community. In particular, it only costs 40 cents per semester —less than the price of one coffee—to support your peers seeking mental health services.

In order to uphold the quality of the programs offered at McGill, I urge all students to take the next opt-out process seriously and to consider the impact that defunding McGill programs will have. If you do choose to opt out of certain services due to personal financial constraints or serious objections to certain programs, I nevertheless suggest that, as a minimum, you continue to pay for services that you personally benefit from or whose mandates you agree with. 

If you ask me to weigh in further, I bow out to opting out.

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