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The Carletonian

MPIRG Fee Opinion Overload: The “No” Camp

<u have already seen a few editorials on the MPIRG referendum, as a former leader and two-year member, I want to contribute my voice. I am voting “No.”

A group of CSA members have argued persuasively that MPIRG’s funding structure is unfair to Carleton students. But I wanted to talk about another reason MPIRG is not good for Carleton: it does not respect our students.

I was the “organizing chair” (or some sort of bureaucratic title like that) for Carleton MPIRG last school year. My experience was largely positive: I tapped into a wider network of students and gained resources and connections throughout the state which helped me to improve as an activist. However, the bureaucratic, top-down nature of the organization was very problematic. On the state level, MPIRG has very specific ideas about how each campus should be run and the tactics that should be used. I found that the role of the campus organizer, a woman hired by the state organization to work with students on campus once a week, was more to give orders than offer advice. Luckily, when we held our ground, refusing to recruit using phone-canvassing, or choosing to plan our own events, different from the ones prescribed, the campus organizer relented. However, she suffered for it: she was reprimanded by the state organization, and did not return the following year.

When we returned for this school year, however, a new campus organizer was hired for Carleton; she was considered far more acceptable by the state organization, and far less flexible to our student opinion. The student leaders, elected by the students in MPIRG for this year, had a very hard time working with her, because she would not listen to our ideas, and kept forcing strategies from the state onto our campus. After only two weeks of working with us, she asked two of the student leaders, including the student filling the position of “organizing chair” to step down. They were told they were not good leaders, and were not right for this organization. The rest of the student leadership also stepped down, appalled by this behavior. Although the state leadership met with us once to talk about our needs, they stood by this organizer’s decisions and maintained that their own strategies comprised the only correct model for activism. They wanted to keep us in the group, but only if we would do things their way; otherwise, they would just find other leaders. And so they did.

I am sure that the students currently in MPIRG are incredible activists, and are doing great work, but I’m also sure they don’t know this story. I am sharing this to illustrate the basic problem with MPIRG: they don’t respect Carleton’s needs, and they don’t respect Carleton students. This year we paid an organization $13,000 to tell Carleton students that they weren’t good leaders. We paid them to stifle student ideas and impose their own organizing strategies and events on our campus. We paid an organization $13,000 to disregard our needs, to ignore our distinctiveness, to silence our voices, and to dispirit rather than encourage a new generation of advocates for social change.

Carleton’s contribution to MPIRG would fund an additional 173 student organizations right here on campus; organizations that respect and reflect the needs and abilities of Carleton students. Other organizations have stayed afloat without outside organizers, have made connections with other campuses without a formal infrastructure, and have succeeded in substantively enhancing the student claim on the political process without a $13,000 budget. MPIRG’s current members are undoubtedly capable and passionate enough to continue to work on the issues that move them no matter whether MPIRG exists as a college-recognized and -supported entity. The college should not sustain an organization that so fundamentally rejects the value of its students. Vote NO on MPIRG.

-Becky Canary-King is a third-year student

-Emily Tragert is a fourth-year student

-Jill Rodde is a fourth-year student

-Eilidh Higgins is a second-year student

This is an article urging you to vote “NO” on the MPIRG referendum this weekend during CSA elections. I will tell you why.

Every year, countless Carleton students across all class years knowingly and unknowingly pay a ridiculous fee to MPIRG. MPIRG is the Minnesota Public Interest Research Group. As students we should have a choice and a voice in the allocation of our funds. We should reconsider this lopsided relationship where we give money annually to an outside institution that is not accountable to us. MPIRG is a statewide non-profit entity which stands up for social justice issues including environmental issues and rallying activism among college students around these issues. Currently, Carleton is one of eight college campuses that contribute annual student fees to sustain the organization. The other seven campuses are the College of St. Catherine, Hamline University, Macalester College, the University of Minnesota Duluth, the University of Minnesota Morris, the University of Minnesota Twin Cities, and Augsburg College. There are many unanswered questions that MPIRG has never transparently communicated with our campuses. How much does each school pay annually? Is the fee the same for all campuses? Who makes decisions at MPIRG and how can Carls get involved? Why have we not been involved thus far?

Ever since my freshman year I have always wondered exactly what this fee contributes to. I believe it is time we as a community review, reconsider, and reject this fee. Although for every student, only an annual fee of $7.50 is taken from us, do the math for all Carleton students, and you can imagine how much we might give to MPIRG annually.

Not a single time in my four years on campus as a fee paying student to MPIRG have I received any public or private literature disseminated relaying how Carleton student fees have been expended and the issues they are supposedly working on for each term or each year. Not a single time in my four years have I been asked about my opinions on how the MPIRG student fee should be used or even what issues I care for them to take up. As a fee paying student, I think others like myself on Carleton’s campus should at least be able to be more involved in these processes. There’s no pamphlet, no brochure, no newsletter (even electronic) or any communication with Carleton students who contribute to their coffers. This is not in line with the values and spirit of Carleton. We are an engaging student body and we like to participate and we appreciate having a place at the table. Since MPIRG refuses to give us a seat at the table then I say we should put them on the menu.

I believe that this relationship is unfair and should be rescinded. For too long too many Carleton students have paid into a system that is not accountable to them and does not communicate with us their plans. If MPIRG really is about grassroots social activism then they should allow Carleton students to have a wider role and a voice in their endeavors.

I know they have accomplished much over the years. MPIRG has fought for fair trade coffee, fought against sweat shop clothing on campuses, and other environmental issues. With all deference to the issues they represent, I do not believe that this relationship is sustainable considering the unfairness of the relationship. Many of the issues they stand for student groups on campus alright take up on a volunteer basis. Because they take our money and run with it, this is tantamount to extortion. Every year countless students knowingly and unknowingly contribute to MPIRG. As an International Relations major, let me make another analogy that I think is even more appropriate. I strongly feel that this relationship is so unfair, I feel like a vassal state paying annual tribute to some foreign sovereign who purports to serve my interests and greater good, defending me in return. But this shouldn’t be. I can defend myself without MPIRG. Carleton students and as a community doesn’t need MPIRG to do what we already do every day, fighting global warming, recycling, and standing up for social justice issues. We already do that and we can still do that without paying tribute as a vassal state to some foreign entity so far away in St. Paul or Minneapolis. Carleton students have been engaged in issues of social justice before MPIRG came to be in 1971, and we will still be engaged in issues of social justice long after MPIRG leaves our campus. Overall, MPIRG has no mechanisms for communicating with our student body what it does, how it does it, and more importantly, how and why our money should be spent. Empires and colonial experiments are a political fad of the historical past. The time for this unfair relationship to end is now. We have our own destiny, our own self determination as a student body, as a campus community, and we do not need MPIRG to extort our money and do for us what we can do ourselves. I would like to thank Lindsey Shaughnessy, Caitlin Fleming, and Pablo Kenney for their inspirational first article against MPIRG two weeks ago, and I hope we raise enough awareness to end this unfair relationship.

-Chai Lee is a is a fourth-year student

As the CSA elections approach, it is very important that we explain our position against the MPIRG fee and correct several inaccurate claims made by the four first-year representatives of MPIRG in last week’s Viewpoint article. In this piece, we will rebut the three central claims of the “vote yes” article published here last week: first, we will rebut their claim that MPIRG and the its refusable/refundable fee are democratic; second, we will dispute their claim that MPIRG’s state-wide nature requires a privileged funding structure; and third, we will respond to MPIRG’s claim that it requires such massive funding to work effectively, with evidence demonstrating its ineffective use.

In the piece published last week, leaders of MPIRG claimed that the fee “is a reflection of the democratic nature of the organization.” Unfortunately for students at Carleton, this is not true. First, the negative check-off vote is inherently undemocratic, in that it assumes students want to pay the fee, and also assumes that voters are educated about its refusable/refundable nature. We ask: when has a democratic organization ever collected constituents’ funds without their explicit approval? This campaign is the first in the four years we have been students here; before this spring, MPIRG has counted on busy Carleton students to ignore the inherent unfairness of the RRF, to accept the organization’s exaggerated claims, and to continue funding its state-wide operations with Carleton students’ money.

Second, we ask: when has a democratic organization ever come onto an affiliate’s campus and removed its organization’s own leaders? Last week, the four first-year students acknowledged that there was massive turnover in MPIRG last year. What they failed to mention is that the exodus was a direct result of MPIRG state officials’ attempts to ignore Carleton’s student leaders’ goals. When MPIRG’s “democratic board” makes decisions about its goals for the year, most of those decisions are made with larger campuses, like the University of Minnesota campuses, in mind. Taking over a local organization because its leaders attempted to challenge the status quo? That’s not democratic.

The authors of the pro-MPIRG letter also claimed that MPIRG has a unique mission to “accomplish change not only on campus, but across the state.” This is entirely untrue. There are a whole slew of organizations on our campus, all funded by the CSA, that act in concert with greater statewide and national organizations. These organizations include, but are not limited to, the Carleton ACLU, Amnesty International, Carleton Conservative Union, the Carleton Democrats, Engineers Without Borders (Carleton College chapter), the Faribo project, and The Lens. Some of these organizations work toward broader state-wide and national goals, while others are even members of greater organizations with membership fees paid for by the CSA. However, no organization has membership fees anywhere close to the size of MPIRG’s.

Furthermore, these organizations do not require money for lawyers; they do not require money for bookkeepers; they do not require $21,289 for a campus organizer’s salary. Rather, like every other Carleton group, they do their own campus organizing, they promote projects on and off campus, and they follow the rules established by the College, the CSA Senate, and the CSA Budget Committee. They are held accountable, and they still manage to achieve real change on—and off—campus.

MPIRG’s final claim is that they have effectively used the money provided to them through the RRF. They offered three results of their lobbies from the past four years to “prove” their effectiveness: the passing of the Bisphenol A (BPA) ban, the passing of the Renewable Energy Standard (RES), and Senator Kevin Dahle’s support for Clean Cars Legislation. Unfortunately, each one of these claims is exaggerated. Both the BPA ban and the RES passed the Minnesota legislature with significant margins, eclipsing both partisan and regional divides; the RES passed the house with a 113 vote margin, while the BPA legislation passed with a 121 vote margin (both out of a possible 134 votes). These are successes of reasonable, non-partisan collaboration between legislators and policymakers, not MPIRG’s lobbying for bills that were all but certain to pass. Even Senator Dahle counters their claim that they influenced his view on the Clean Cars legislation. In an email, he said that he has “always supported the Minnesota Clean Cars Act” and that he heard negative things from constituents, but remained a proponent of the act due to his own stance on the issues. MPIRG is distorting their record and asking you to support the RRF in order to perpetuate an obsolete model for college activism.

The authors of the previous article argued that our original Viewpoint article was misleading and false. Unfortunately, they never countered our points or convinced us that MPIRG is benefiting Carleton, or even the state, in any real way. We have consistently done research and collected evidence to show that MPIRG is undemocratic and that the nature of the RRF protects MPIRG from the stringent guidelines upheld by the College, the Senate, and the Budget Committee. And above all, MPIRG is not using Carleton students’ money effectively. MPIRG’s model for activism is antiquated, and it is time for Carleton students to stand up. The election starts Sunday at noon, and runs through Wednesday. Vote at For more updates, visit

NO on MPIRG is GOOD for Carleton. Vote NO on the MPIRG fee.

-Lindsey Shaughnessy is a fourth-year student, CSA senator, Co-Chair of the Committee on Student Life, and a former MPIRG task force leader.

-Caitlin Fleming is a fourth-year student, and CSA President 08-09

-Pablo Kenney is a fourth-year student and CSA Vice-President 08-09

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