2022 SU General Election Full Supplement

by Louie Villanueva

Debate over union membership out of control

By Fabian Mayer, November 19, 2015 —

Wildrose Party members met last weekend for their annual general meeting. One of their adopted policies would make membership in Alberta’s student associations optional, as it is currently mandatory.

Dues are currently $32.50 per semester at the University of Calgary. If the Wildrose Party ever forms provincial government, this fee may no longer be mandatory.

Social media debate around the policy has been heated, with many current and former students’ union officials slamming the policy. The argument has also been ugly, with no shortage of personal attacks from all corners.

Regardless of where you stand on the issue, both sides’ use of hyperbolic rhetoric to make their point has turned what could have been an interesting discussion into a caricature of a debate.

Former SU science representative Keean Bexte wrote the policy, and it was co-signed by nine other university students. Bexte argues that being a forced member of a students’ union violates Article 20 of the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which states in part that “no one may be compelled to belong to an association.”

The question of whether union membership should be mandatory is a legitimate one. However, claiming that membership in a students’ union violates one’s human rights cheapens the concept and makes light of actual human rights violations taking place around the world.

Meanwhile, opponents of the policy are implying that students being able to opt-out of dues would cripple students’ unions, meaning an end to services and severely hampered advocacy efforts. 

In reality, less than 10 per cent of the U of C union’s revenues come from student fees, as the majority comes from the operation of MacHall. Many arguments against the policy rely on the assumption that the choice to opt out would result in a mass exodus of dues-paying members.

This doesn’t give university students enough credit. Most students know the SU provides several important, well-run services and is a strong advocate for students. Some students would opt out and save the $65 per year, but many more would continue to support the organization.

The question of mandatory SU membership is not a choice between human rights violations or student bodies being robbed of all services and any voice in politics. By squandering the chance to have a meaningful debate, both sides have lost the argument.

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