Carleton student association lays off staff ahead of possible cuts

Carleton University's student association is laying off staff and temporarily closing a pub and convenience store in anticipation of a new provincial policy that could reduce their operating budget.

Moves come as post-secondary students can now opt out of some mandatory fees that fund campus services

Carleton University's student union staged a 'blackout' day on Wednesday by closing all student services facing cuts due to a new provincial policy. (Laurie Fagan CBC )

The Carleton University Students' Association (CUSA) has laid off two employees and will close a convenience store and Oliver's Pub and Patio for the summer as the provincial government allows students to opt out of some mandatory fees that pay for services the association provides.

CUSA is warning that other services could also be affected, such as its emergency food cupboard, support for disabled students and a centre for gender issues. 

Students will also be asked to choose whether to support other student services such as the campus newspaper, The Charlatan, and the community radio station CKCU 93.1 FM.

To draw attention to the situation, student-run services held a "blackout" day on Wednesday — closing all their facilities to show what life on campus could be like in the future.

Carleton's "blackout" student services day

4 years ago
Duration 1:08
All of the major student-run service centres at Carleton University were closed Wednesday to protest the impact of Ontario's Student Choice Initiative.

'Freedom of choice'

Under the student choice initiative announced in January by the Progressive Conservatives, post-secondary institutions have to give students the choice to opt out of fees the government deems non-essential. 

At the time, Training, Colleges and Universities Minister Merillee Fullerton said the change was about students deciding what they can do without.

"We will ensure students have transparency and freedom of choice regarding the campus services and organizations which get access to their money," she was quoted saying in a news release.

According to CUSA, the annual fees students can now choose to opt out of cost about $130 annually.

But some services students pay for will remain mandatory, including athletics and walksafe programs.

'A targeted way of de-funding services'

Diana Idibe, CUSA's vice-president of student services, said the organization provides essentials for the health and welfare of people studying at Carleton. 

"Everything from pregnancy tests and emergency food services made me immediately think of the long-term health of students if we are cut," Idibe said.

Diane Idibe, CUSA's vice-president of students services, said the things her union provides — including free pregnancy tests, peer counselling and help for disabled students — are essential. (Laurie Fagan)

"It really does feel like a targeted way of de-funding services and attacking student autonomy rather than a real move towards transparency."

CUSA provides jobs to several hundred students and Idibe said some could disappear.

"I will say that for a government that is all about jobs, it's unfortunate that students that are working part-time will now be put in a position as to whether they will be working at all."

CKCU could face cuts down the road

CKCU, which has been operating since 1975, currently has four paid staff and relies on 250 volunteers to provide its diverse programming.

Dylan Hunter, the station's production manager, said nearly two-thirds of the station's $500,000 budget comes from student fees.

Dylan Hunter, CKCU's production manager, said the radio station offers opportunities for 250 volunteers. (Laurie Fagan )

And while Hunter credits successful community donation drives for keeping their finances safe for at least next year, cuts could happen in later years.

"We provide alternative music, media and different opinions and voices for students and the community," Hunter said. 

"For the price of a food platter, we can offer students a chance for future job opportunities in media and music." 

Not all students registered yet

Kenneth H. Aliu is in his fourth year of law and African studies at Carleton.

He said the Ontario government's opting-out policy shows how out of touch some politicians are about life for post-secondary students.

Kenneth H. Aliu said he will opt to pay for student services because they help racialized and marginalized students. (Laurie Fagan/CBC )

"Especially the racialized minority students here on campus, that need the key student services like the social justice initiatives that help marginalized students — like the women's centre and those who need food," he said.

CUSA said it's still trying to clarify with the Ministry of Training, Colleges and Universities  what it considers to be an essential student service hoping that some of the services it offers could be made mandatory. 

The association estimates that only after all students have registered for the next school year, sometime this summer, will it know which student services will be cut.

This isn't a one-time exercise, however, as students will be asked annually to choose what they don't want to fund.