Next week, students will have the opportunity to decide if MPIRG should retain its current funding structure.
As a part of a statewide coalition two years ago, MPIRG (Minnesota Public Interest Research Group) helped defeat two constitutional amendments that would have cemented voter ID laws and institutionalized marriage as only existing between a man and a woman in Minnesota. On campus last year, MPIRG, in partnership with other student orgs, fought for sweatshop-free clothing in the Highlander store and created more all-gender restrooms across campus.
MPIRG achieved these things because of its unique fee structure, the structure at stake in the upcoming referendum.
Every single MPIRG-affiliated school—the Universities of Minnesota at Morris, Duluth and in the Twin Cities, St. Catherine’s, Hamline, Augsburg and, of course, Macalester—operates under the same funding structure. Every year, MPIRG gets a certain amount of money per student (amount depends on the school) from the administration or student government as part of a student activity fee. At Macalester, students can either choose to allow six dollars a semester to go towards MPIRG or opt-out, in which case the money goes back into MCSG’s money pot.
Those encouraging students to vote no on the opt-out funding structure believe that MPIRG’s opt-out system is inherently unfair and undemocratic because it receives more money, without MCSG oversight, than most student orgs and takes advantage of students who would want to opt-out of the fee but don’t because they are uninformed about the process.
On the second point, I have only one thing to say: read your email. While MPIRG could do more to inform students about their abilities to opt-out, not checking or reading emails carefully enough is not a good enough argument against the current fee structure. Every important student announcement is sent out over email. There is no reason why the MPIRG opt-out should be any different.
But why should MPIRG receive special funds?
In a political landscape where college students are a demographic to be turned out, but rarely catered to, MPIRG exists as one of the few organization wholly devoted to the student voice. MPIRG has a special funding structure because it represents student issues on college campuses and in the broader Minnesota community through issue-based campaigns and lobbying at the capitol.
MPIRG is run by students for students. Students decide which issues to tackle. Students plan the campaigns. Students run the campaigns. And students win the campaigns. The fees at each school pay for a staff of organizers and canvassers who help students fight for their initiatives. The organizers direct students by advising and teaching tools needed for running successful campaigns, and the canvassers raise money and awareness on the issues. The board of directors (all students at MPIRG affiliated schools) makes important hiring decisions and endorses initiatives and campaigns.
To the State Legislature and school administrators, MPIRG represents the student voice. When you pay the six-dollar fee, you are essentially paying for MPIRG to represent you. In order for MPIRG to serve students effectively it needs the money from the student fees.
Some students may not want MPIRG to speak for them. That’s why the opt-out option exists. Other students may be concerned that MPIRG as an organization does not represent their interests. I would encourage these students to attend the next Issues and Actions statewide meeting in which students propose and vote on the campaigns they will focus on for the next year. Every student at MPIRG affiliated schools has a say in which campaigns MPIRG runs.
MPIRG needs the fee structure in order to function at a statewide level. If the decision next week is a “no,” then MPIRG will no longer be able to support a chapter at Macalester and Macalester students will lose a crucial avenue for creating political and social change in their communities.