PIRG money not used on students

You’ve probably noticed that MassPIRG has become unusually active on campus during the last two or three weeks, with taste tests, bright signs, interest meetings and even petitions.

But what is “MassPIRG” and what does it do? Ask a MassPIRG student member on campus, and he will tell you that MassPIRG works for the “public interest” on a variety of social issues, including hunger, homelessness and the environment. These are all issues worthy of our attention, certainly, but a bit of research reveals that MassPIRG is not your average student organization.

I say this not only because of its unusual funding system, but because of its direct affiliation with a national lobbying group (PIRG) whose interest in students is, in all likelihood, superficial. PIRG has devised a system employed at Williams and many other colleges through which it cunningly collects thousands of dollars, organizes a few small student projects to provide content for its newsletter, and keeps the general public, including the paying students and parents, uninformed about the true structure of the state and national PIRG organizations.

What is so bad about a student group being affiliated with a national lobbying group? After all, shouldn’t we still encourage students to get involved with issues of social justice? The “issues” are not the issue here, for most people agree that there is nothing wrong with getting involved with these issues; in fact, students should be commended for caring enough to want to get involved.

The problem with MassPIRG’s off-campus affiliation concerns the manner in which the organization is run.

First, to even qualify for a PIRG chapter, a college or university must institute a negative checkoff tuition tax which will secure a maximum amount of funding.

Second, students are not allowed to determine where, how, and when most of the money collected is spent.

No other student organization is entitled to use such a sneaky, manipulative funding system, and no other student organization relinquishes absolute control of its funding to another organization totally outside the college.

But what about MassPIRG’s student projects? Don’t students have a choice of which projects they participate in?

Perhaps they do, but there is still a problem with the picture; all of MassPIRG’s student projects combined do not justify collecting an average of $6500 per semester from Williams students and parents. MassPIRG knows this, but rather than putting this money toward on-campus events, such as the sponsorship of lectures which might increase environmental awareness, it sends the money to the state PIRG headquarters in Boston.

Eventually PIRG uses the money to pay the salary of a professional lobbyist who, although living in Williamstown, is all but unknown to most members of the community. This lobbyist produces the colorful posters, helps produce the MassPIRG newsletters, and reportedly helps direct some of the student projects. However, he is not a student, and he does not use the collected funds on student projects. He is a lobbyist who uses money collected from students and parents to pay his rent and buy his groceries! As if this weren’t bad enough, any money left over at the end of each semester is used by PIRG to support Ralph Nader’s presidential campaigns through the Green Party.

Shocking, isn’t it? This information is kept from parents, students, administrators, and even MassPIRG’s Williams members every semester. None of the generous contributors have ever known much more than that “MassPIRG is a statewide, student-directed, and student-funded organization that works on environmental, consumer protection, and democracy issues.” This vague and somewhat misleading statement, taken from the fee waiver form, gives little hint of MassPIRG’s unethical use of the collected money.

What I find odd is that other activist student organizations—the Purple Druids, for instance—seem to do a much better job of involving students in environmental issues than MassPIRG, but do not require a questionable funding system, a professional lobbyist, or off-campus organizational assistance.

A true student organization emphasizes student leadership, student initiative, and student financial decisions, all of which are absent in MassPIRG.

In addition, through its misleading and deceptive self-promotion techniques, MassPIRG fails to live up to its own goal of consumer protection when dealing with those who fund it.

Is this hypocrisy, or has MassPIRG forgotten that “the right to know” applies just as much to students and parents wanting to know about the organizations they support as it does to citizens wanting to know about pesticides in the food they consume every day?

MassPIRG is up for recertification today and tomorrow in the Baxter mailroom, so remember that voting it down is not in any way a strike against the environment or against consumer protection. Rather, it is a vote for responsible environmental advocacy, true student leadership, and—above all—honesty.