RE: Withholding of Student Fees

I am writing as a very concerned alumnus. The Carleton University decision to withhold the levies of the Carleton University Students’ Association (CUSA), the Graduate Students’ Association (GSA), and the Carleton Academic Student Government (CASG) has done much to garner Carleton negative media attention and raise the concern of students and alumni alike. 

Please understand that there are legal, moral, and political issues at stake in your unfounded decision to withhold these fees. With the exception of CASG, the student unions are separately incorporated non-profit organizations. The denial of their fees that you collect in trust is illegal and the students’ unions have appropriately sought council and served you with legal notice. Does your administration believe it is appropriate to expend student money twice for the sake of this debate? Student money will fund both the University and the students’ unions as the unions seek what is legally theirs. To counter your inaccurate claims of financial mismanagement the student unions, in an act of prudence, have gone as far as to publish their already public financial audits in the Carleton student-written newspaper The Charlatan.  Students’ do not want to go to court, but they are unwilling to allow Carleton University to oppress the student body and silence dissent. 

Morally, this move disserves the nature of academia. Universities are supposed to be a pillar of free thought and a place of learning and idea sharing. The separate incorporation and free activity of the students’ unions allows for a plurality of ideas concerning the best direction for Carleton University to be realised and advocated. You do have to agree with the student unions, but you do have to support their autonomy and right to a dissenting view on any issue. To do anything less is to mock the academic freedom every university espouses. 

Carleton University’s actions are akin to the government response to the peaceful protests that took place at the Toronto G20. There, the rights Canadians held to free speech and assembly were systematically withdrawn as to quell dissenting views of the global economic agenda. From that event, a scene of hundreds of non-violent Canadians enclosed and arrested while singing our national anthem will forever mar Canada’s reputation as a leader in human rights. Similarly, Carleton’s efforts to ratify a new governance agreement where the students’ unions would be held accountable to the University is but a thinly veiled attempt minimize the organizing efforts of students at times when they disagree with University decisions.  Again akin the Toronto G20, this has caused Carleton a great deal of public relations malaise. I do not enjoy when Jeff Sachs, an author and economist I have the utmost respect for, and Jack Layton, a powerful opposition MP, publicly denounce my alma mater for their disrespect of student rights.

A university is nothing without its students, and students are stronger together, through their student unions. These unions are accountable to the students through public elections and independent financial audits. These organizations thrive, create student jobs, inform students of pressing issues, provide integral services, create diverse and engaging programming, and make Carleton a better university.  The student unions aren’t able to fulfil these goals when the University administration withholds their student fees in an unjust, immoral, and illegal fashion.

Your Board of Governors is set to meet Monday the 29th of November, and I’m sure there will be a student presence at this meeting. It is my hope that you will hear their concerns and disengage from the politics of silencing student dissent. The appropriate course of action for the Board of Governors is to release the fees owed to the students’ unions as well as provide compensation for the losses incurred by the students’ unions during the fee withholding. Put simply: free the fees.