The Saga of WPIRG

Marty McFly - 3A Time Travel
Posted on: October 8, 2016

Waterloo has around 30 600 Undergraduate students. The first few weeks of every term are hectic times, but are also the only time that you can opt out of some student fees. A lot of those have to be done in person. This seems ridiculous to me; I barely know what classes I’m taking in the first few weeks of the term. A small sum, around five dollars, taken every term that a student is in class really adds up. If we assume each student pays the fee 1.7 times every calendar year, it adds up to around $260 000. That’s a lot of money, and that’s how much the Waterloo Public Interest Research Group (WPIRG) was getting every year.

WPIRG is a student run organization that helps fund actions groups, each made up of between 5 and 50 students and centered around a specific issue, campaign, or interview. Some groups have had a very positive impact on the Waterloo community, such as the students who took up against the Schembri property management company to fight for students and get deposits returned. Other successful groups include Cinema Politica, a group dedicated to spreading thought provoking film; the Waterloo Community Garden; and Fossil Free UW.

Some of WPIRG’s groups actions have been more controversial. During the Fall 2015 term, an action group called the Palestinian Solidarity Action Group called for a school-wide separation of ties from Israeli organizations. Students were widely outraged at this. Calling for a blanket ban on organizations simply due to their geographic location seemed ridiculous to most of the Waterloo community. In the end, this motion did not go through. Notably, the campaign period for this referendum saw an unprecedented spike in anti-Semitic activity in the Waterloo area.

September’s referendum was the second one associated with WPIRG. Back in 2005 a similar referendum was held, but was halted before voting was finished. I couldn’t find any reason why. In the recent referendum to defund WPIRG 8,735 students voted, 7,156 for and 1,579 against. For anyone running the numbers, that’s 82% of the vote going against WPIRG. On the whole though, only 1.6% of students voted for WPIRG.

Personally, I never really had any issue with WPIRG. I felt that if they were doing good with my $5 donation every term that it was fine, up until the Summer 2016 term when their actions started interfering with my activities. One of the best parts about being on an intramural team is creating your name. The whole team comes up with suggestions related to Waterloo, the sport in question, the team itself, and various topics which do not carry a PG-13 rating. There’s a reasonable limit to what students can expect the athletics board to approve, but during S’16, the vetting process got much more rigorous. Team names which had existed for years were now unacceptable, and it was due to a WPIRG action group lobbying that intramurals were made a safe space. Intramurals are supposed to foster competition, not an overwhelming feeling of safety.