Should MassPIRG be reaffirmed?

As MassPIRG’s reaffirmation vote takes place today and tomorrow, we at the Record would like to offer reasons as to why the Williams student body should vote against MassPIRG.

Certainly we approve of the laudable goals of MassPIRG: environmental protection, fighting hunger, homelessness and the like. The a cappella benefit concert raised money for the Berkshire Food project, endangered species week informed students about the plight of endangered species and, indeed, the PetsiChallenge showed us all how delicious organic foods really are.

Yet none of these accomplishments warrant a $4 student tax. A $4 tax which MassPIRG uses to pay for a MassPIRG campus representative; a $4 tax which “is pooled with funding from other campuses all over the state,” and then “allocated for various tasks by an all-student board of directors,” a board of directors which has one and only one representative from Williams College.

MassPIRG asks us “What could be more rigorous (or democratic) than a campus-wide vote every two years?” Well, a lot of things. Key to “democracy” is the idea that those who are in the system know what is going on in the system and have some say in the process. MassPIRG does not ask for our opinions about its votes- we don’t have regular referenda to vote on how we want our money spent.

To justify the all-student fee, MassPIRG tells us, “The all-student fee makes our work truly for the public interest. If only a few of the Williams College students donated to MassPIRG, we would not be accountable to the whole student body.” Here MassPIRG makes two main assumptions that are blatantly false. First, the idea that the fee makes MassPIRG’s work truly for the public interest is a non sequitor. Just because MassPIRG takes our money does not mean they use it in the way we want, especially given the fact that MassPIRG never asks the student body what its “public interest” is. The “public interest” seems more dictated by a supra-campus organization, ultimately accountable to no other organization. The second assumption is that the existence of a club means that it must be accountable to all the students. The very notion of an organization is the idea that a group of people have joined together for a common cause, whether or not that cause coheses with the rest of campus opinion.

MassPIRG tells us that any organization could set up a funding structure similar to its own, i.e. one which automatically taxes students on their term bill. No organization on campus should be allowed its own “tax” or “fee.” If someone wishes to give money to MassPIRG, by all means do so, but do not institutionalize the giving. Sure, one can waive his or her $4 fee, but again, this is done with the assumption that such a fee ought to exist in the first place.

To further defend the tax, MassPIRG tells us that if it did not have this “donation system,” it would have to spend all its time fundraising “instead of working on issues that are important to our campus.” How exactly are raising money and working on issues mutually exclusive? One might take time away from the other, but the byproduct of such work is the fact that those who are giving are giving willingly.

We at The Record would rather not see MassPIRG leave campus. Yet MassPIRG has made this vote a sort of ultimatum. Either we choose that the $4 tax exists or MassPIRG leaves campus. While this is an unfortunate result of our vote, we stand by our decision. If the result is a few less ladybugs on campus, then so be it.