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Student Choice Initiative threatens CFRU and Guelph Community Budget cuts will affect more than just campus life

by Lauren Taylor
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In March, the Ontario government released the official guidelines for the Student Choice Initiative, a provincial mandate to give university students an opt-out option for certain “ancillary fees” – fees that fund student unions, clubs, and associations on campus. Several student organizations on campus will be affected by anticipated budget cuts due to the SCI, including Guelph Arts Council member CFRU. I spoke to Vish, CFRU’s station manager, Andrea, CFRU’s marketing and outreach director, and Bruce, a CFRU volunteer, about their work with CFRU and the impact that it has had on their lives and on the campus and community.

First, I asked about CFRU’s role on campus and in the community. “We keep students informed about what’s going on in our city and on campus,” says Vish. “We also offer students a creative outlet via the opportunity to learn how to record produce audio in a professional manner. We instill them with confidence and allow them to develop acumen as a researcher and a presenter of information”

“All the training that is done here is free, so students can come and learn how to make media and how to develop their voice for free,” says Andrea. “We also do free advertising for any on-campus group or initiative, so students can learn about amazing resources through CFRU. It’s because of CFRU that a lot of people, myself included, got involved with the Guelph community and found out about amazing local businesses and events that were happening.”

“CFRU’s role has changed a lot,” says Bruce. “I think it gives the school an identity in the community. It’s great at mixing the campus and the downtown community… there’s not too many other university-centered organizations that are as involved in the community as CFRU.”

“The only people we’re beholden toare the campus and the community,” says Andrea. “You don’t get more grassroots than that. By losing community radio, you’re losing the platform that gives people the voice.”

And loss of that platform is a serious concern – when I asked about how the SCI would impact CFRU, I was met with uncertainty. Vish explained, “We don’t quite know yet. There’s no trending on this, it’s unprecedented. We’ve been tentatively told to budget for about 50% or less.”

“There’s the argument that if the students want these services, then they’ll opt in, and the services will be there,” says Andrea, “but the students democratically voted to fund these organizations in referendums. And the difference between a referendum and opting in is that if 60% of students vote to have CFRU, then CFRU operates at full budget, but if 60% of students opt in to fund CFRU, we’ll only be operating at 60% of our budget. And this is going to be happening every single semester.”

“After a few years of people opting out, there won’t be a station left to make a choice about,” says Bruce. “We operate with a federal license, and if we lose it, we don’t get it back, they give the signal to someone else.”

“I think that what’s being lost in this is just how much a service like ours does for the city,” says Vish. “Campus services have a huge impact on what goes on in the city. We let people know what’s going on. The CSA puts on some of the best concerts downtown, and CFRU has a hand in that too. We feed Hillside, Kazoo! Fest, and the Jazz Festival, giving them content ideas and sponsorships. The impact of [the SCI on the city] is going to be devastating. This isn’t just about us. It’s not even just about all of the student groups that will be affected. This impacts our whole city and every city that could be impacted by us.”

“It’s like ordering in a restaurant where you know the prices but not what the items are,” says Bruce. “You don’t know what you’re making a choice on if they don’t tell you what it is or how it could be beneficial, and even if they tried… I didn’t appreciate the benefit of volunteering at CFRU until much later. It’s had a huge impact on my life. I had no idea how these things would help me out.”

“I got involved in my first year of university,” says Andrea, “and it’s had a massive effect on my life.”

“It is no exaggeration to say that everything I am professionally and certainly personally is because of CFRU,” says Vish.

CFRU has formed a Community Advisory Committee to try to save the station in response to funding cuts that are likely coming this fall. If you’d like to help, contact agatharead@gmail.com or nathan.lawr@gmail.com to submit your Committee membership application, or contact your local Member of Provincial Parliament (MPP) as soon as possible, and tell them what’s at stake. To find out who your local MPP is, go to voterinformationservice.elections.on.ca and type in your postal code.

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