By Aidan Fishman
Campus Advocacy Coordinator
B'nai Brith Canada
Undergraduate students at the University of Waterloo have voted to eliminate their $9.50 fee to Waterloo Public Interest Research Group (WPIRG), which had given the organization an annual windfall of about $290,000.
A whopping 82 per cent of Waterloo undergraduates voted to remove the automatic WPIRG fee.
Through its “Palestine Solidarity Action Group,” WPIRG had been the instigator and main promoter of last year’s referendum, which asked Waterloo students to sever ties with Israeli universities. The referendum ultimately failed by a margin of 55% to 43%.
The referendum, which came as part of the larger campaign to boycott Israel, known as the BDS Movement, raised spectres of increased antisemitism on campus as a Nazi flag was found hanging from a primarily student apartment building during the campaign period. Around the same time, graffiti telling readers to “Kill all Jews” was found in a washroom at nearby Wilfred Laurier University.
WPIRG is part of a larger network of “public interest research groups” that stretch across Ontario university campuses and also exist in other provinces such as Quebec and Nova Scotia. These groups typically derive most of their operating budgets from an annual fee imposed upon all students. Students can opt out of paying the fee, but few choose to do so, either because they are deterred by the long and bureaucratic opt-out process or because they are unaware that they are paying the fee in the first place.
On many campuses, including McGill University, Carleton University and Dalhousie University, these mandatory fees collected from often-unsuspecting students form the backbone of local anti-Israel campaigns.
“Students at the University of Waterloo should be congratulated first for rejecting a discriminatory anti-Israel initiative, and then punishing those who proposed it,” said Michael Mostyn, Chief Executive Officer of B’nai Brith Canada