By Liam Prendergast
For the three days of SSMU’s Activities Night, Tangerine, a subsidiary of Scotiabank, set up its display amidst other student groups. JanSport, TD Bank, and Tangerine (with the largest display) had all paid to be in attendance, which as the Daily reported, fully covered the cost of security and maintenance for the entirety of the event. Additionally, these corporate sponsors allowed for student-run groups to table, for the first time, free of charge. For SSMU, whose chronic lack of funding has continually hampered its provision of services, this arrangement seemed a fair way to cover the cost of Activities Night, while exposing students to providers of services students might actually want or need.
Sounds reasonable, right?
As usual, however, this totally understandable compromise was torn apart by a variety of McGill’s self-ascribed “radical” movements. Members of McGill Against Austerity and ‘Socialist Fightback’ loudly and repeatedly heckled the corporate booths, to the point where security became involved. The McGill Daily, again confusing opinion with news, published an article documenting the self- righteous fury felt at the mere presence of a bank on campus.
This petulant attitude embodies the type of mindset shared by these groups: they must have their cake and eat it too. Not having to pay for their attendance isn’t good enough- they require that the people who do pay for the event have nothing to do with it. Meanwhile, the SSMU’s attempt to provide critical services despite huge budget cuts was somehow “selling out” to corporate interest. Rather, rad groups offered no balanced alternative – their way or the highway.
A Corporate Presence
All the saber rattling does however bring up a valid question: is there a place for corporate advertising on campus? With the recent expansion of billboards in the Shatner Building, as well as the strategically positioned ads in bathrooms, corporate advertising is certainly more visible on campus than it once was.
Ironically, it is the socialist redistribution of tuition McGill students pay to other Quebec universities that is a large part of why there is a budgetary issue in the first place.
An obvious reason for this is McGill’s lack of funding. The Quebec Government, under the guise of austerity measures, has slashed McGill’s allocation of provincial funding on a yearly basis, resulting in an increasingly precarious financial situation. Since 2012, McGill has lost over $50 million in Government funding, having wide-ranging effects across the University. Those affected include SSMU, which has been forced to bring in additional fees to make up for a projected $130,000 deficit. Among the budget cuts made was over $47,000 from the ‘club fee’, which goes towards SSMU-registered student clubs (something that would have made tabling at Activities Night difficult for some clubs had it not been free).
Corporate advertising is thus a quick and easy way to make large sums of money without resorting to the explosive issue of raising tuition. One would think that groups such as McGill Against Austerity would welcome this, as a way of avoiding McGill’s budget crisis passing on to students, as well as enabling the continued funding of student groups.
However, this is not the case. In an Opinion piece for the Daily, Kian Kenyon-Dean of Socialist Fightback considered the presence of Tangerine as “corporate… infiltration”, and went so far as to consider the presence of a few billboards within the Shatner building as a violation of SSMU’s anti-austerity mandate.
As is typical of such radical organizations, however, no real alternative is offered. Despite recognizing the extreme budgetary difficulties of SSMU, the only ‘solution’ put forward is to completely abolish capitalism and establish a worker-led state, in which issues such as a budget (or currency) won’t matter. Ironically, it is the socialist redistribution of tuition McGill students pay to other Quebec universities that is a large part of why there is a budgetary issue in the first place. So until this socialist paradise is perfected, it would seem that SSMU must find other ways to pay its bills.
The argument has also been given that corporate advertising crosses a line when it becomes involved with SSMU, in that the ‘Student Union’ should only be dedicated to meeting student interests. But I would argue that, in the case of Activities Night, select corporate presence can be considered a service to students. The fact remains that in our world, evils of capitalism or no, banking and telecom services are essential. Whilst the members of Socialist Fightback may find stuffing their loonies under a collectively owned mattress serviceable, the majority of students need access to commercial and financial services that banks and other companies provide.
Among the budget cuts made was over $47,000 from the ‘club fee’, which goes towards SSMU-registered student clubs (something that would have made tabling at Activities Night difficult for some clubs had it not been free).
Hosting events where they are on display is genuinely helpful, particularly for foreign students coming to McGill for the first time. For new students, the first few weeks are stressful enough, even without having to do the mad dash between various banks and cellular companies. Events such as Activities Night, where various companies are accessible under the same roof, undoubtedly make the whole process much easier. This is particularly true for those from non-Western backgrounds, who may not be familiar with Canadian banking and telecom businesses. Speaking as somebody who foolishly continued to use his Bank of America card (acquiring a mountain of fees in doing so) through first year, I would have greatly benefited from being able to shop around for a Canadian alternative in one efficient place.
All this is not to say that McGill should throw open its gates to every corporate hustle for the sake of money. University, after all, should remain a place dedicated to the open, liberal education of its students. We are a fortunate far cry away from many universities in the US, where campus quads are a sea of hawkish salesman and advertisement pervades everything from sports to schoolbooks. McGill, to its great credit, has a balanced and fair relationship with businesses. To conflate the presence of a few billboards or bank displays with ‘selling out’ is alarmist and cynical hyperbole, which neglects the provision of vital services.
The views expressed in this opinion piece are the author’s own and do not necessarily represent those of The Bull & Bear.