On January 17, the provincial government announced that universities and colleges must make the majority of non-tuition fees — which are currently mandatory — optional. With further sweeping cuts to the provincial student aid framework and an across-the-board reduction in tuition, Doug Ford’s government has changed postsecondary education in Ontario in one deft blow.
While the message from the Progressive Conservatives is that these changes are “for the students,” The Varsity’s editorial board, of which I am a member, disagrees.
Varsity Publications Inc. is the non-profit corporation that publishes The Varsity, The Varsity Magazine, and our digital products. Full-time students at the University of Toronto pay our fee and make up our membership.
It is currently unclear exactly which fees students will be able to opt-out of, though we know that “essential” services, to use the government’s word, such as those related to health and safety programs, athletics, and academic support will be protected. Universities will apparently have the final say on which fees are “essential” and “non-essential,” with students being able to opt out of “non-essential” fees. All indications thus far point to campus media being included in the latter category.
Money from student fees comprises the majority of our revenue and we could not survive without it. The financial uncertainty of whether or not we would receive enough student fees in any given semester to keep the presses running would debilitate our operations.
To put it bluntly: an opt-out option for our fee poses an existential threat to this organization.
As the Editor-in-Chief of The Varsity, I am also the Chief Executive Officer of Varsity Publications. In this capacity, it is my fiduciary duty to ensure the continued existence of this newspaper. And, mark my words, I will fight tooth and nail for the future of The Varsity and all of our essential peers in the Ontario student press.
What will this look like?
I must be a public advocate for the inclusion of campus media in the “essential” category of student fees, whether that be just at the University of Toronto or as part of a broader, provincial recognition of our demonstrable value at universities and colleges. I must be an outspoken champion of the work that journalists do on campuses and an outspoken critic of the provincial government’s attack on the freedom of the student press.
I must also keep running this newspaper, which prides itself on strong, responsible coverage of issues that matter to students. And there’s no getting around it — this is an issue that matters to students, and we will continue to report on it.
The necessity of my role as a public advocate for The Varsity has the potential to clash with the code of journalistic ethics that applies to all of our work. My bias on the issue of student fees is blatant and forceful, and it cannot seep into our reporting and risk damaging our accuracy and credibility.
As such, we are taking steps to isolate our coverage of the changes to student fees from my public advocacy, and I am recusing myself from editing any stories that pertain to this issue.
We have designated two members of our News team — Adam A. Lam and Andy Takagi — as the only reporters who will write about the changes to the student fees framework in News. Their work will be closely monitored and edited by Josie Kao, the News Editor. Reut Cohen, the Managing Editor, is taking over the responsibility of doing final edits on all News pieces on this subject and publishing these articles.
Reut will also take over the editing and publishing responsibilities for Business and Comment articles on the topic, and oversee their production with Michael Teoh and Ibnul Chowdhury, the respective editors of these sections. Adam, Andy, Reut, Josie, Michael, and Ibnul will not publicly express opinions about the changes to student fees, and I will not interfere in their work.
It is vital that I do everything in my power to advocate for The Varsity as an essential service to students, but our survival is dependent on our ability to continue producing unmatched and quality journalism. One cannot interfere with the other.
Hopefully this will not be necessary for long.