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The Carletonian

The Carletonian

Carleton students say no to MPIRG

<ssibly the biggest debate on campus this year was resolved early Thursday morning in an assertive style. The results of the Carleton Student Association (CSA) Senate elections, which ran Sunday through Wednesday, revealed a decisive vote by students against continuing the $7.50 refusable/refundable Minnesota Public Interest Research Group (MPIRG) fee.

According to its website, MPIRG “is a grassroots, non-partisan, nonprofit, student-directed organization that empowers and trains students and engages the community to take collective action in the public interest throughout the state of Minnesota.” It was recently part of the Detox Minnesota campaign, aimed at combating toxic chemical use, and it advocated for the Toxic Free Kids Act, which was passed May 8, creating a system to address the issue of toxic chemicals in children’s products.

“I feel devastated by the loss of the Carleton MPIRG chapter,” Christa Owens ’12, Carleton MPIRG Environmental Task-force Leader, said. “Our organizing director put it best when he said said that he and the entire state office feel like they have lost a family member. If anything, this is a loss for Carleton.”

The movement against the MPIRG fee, which is used for operations costs and to pay non-student campus organizers, was originally brought up at a CSA meeting, but it soon spread across campus and onto the election ballot. Students voted to remove the fee by a margin of 847-321, meaning Carleton will likely lose its place as one of nine colleges involved in MPIRG.

The fee has been in place since MPIRG’s founding in 1971, but its opponents claim the $12,000 it raises each year have not benefited Carleton or its students.

“We’re very happy that, for the first time in a long time, most voters were informed about both sides of the MPIRG issue—and that a majority of them resoundingly told the organization that we are going to hold MPIRG accountable if they want to collect fees from Carleton students,” Lindsey Shaughnessy ’09 said. She is one of several students who wrote editorials to The Carletonian and created a Facebook event urging students to vote “No” on the MPIRG fee.

Controversies over the dismissal of several Carleton student leaders in the MPIRG organization earlier this year raised issues about whether Carleton’s interests were being met in an organization that operates largely under funding from bigger schools and ones in the Twin Cities area.

“MPIRG’s goals are certainly laudable, but we felt that the organization was not using Carleton students’ money effectively or transparently, and that our campus goals very much diverged from those of the statewide organization and its paid organizers,” Shaughnessy said.

MPIRG members and supporters fear the loss of their organization will leave a hole in the activist spirit and grass-roots organizing that usually exists at Carleton.

“My faith that the Carleton community is supportive of its members who pursue their passions and actively engage in building a better world has been shaken, but not shattered,” Owens said, “for I strongly believe in the potential of my peers to burst ‘the bubble.’ I thank those who voted yes, fully aware that they were supporting their peers and doing what is right, not only for Carleton, but for the state of Minnesota.”

While it is unclear whether MPIRG will continue as an exclusively student-run organization at Carleton, Shaughnessy also expressed hope that students can work together to develop an improved organization, though “there is no definite way forward right now, especially as we haven’t heard what the state directors have planned for the chapter,” she said.

Students who participated in the CSA elections also approved a revised CSA constitution and voted for college-wide divestment from the Sudan, where conflict in the Darfur region has been raging since 2003. Specific plans for the divestment procedures have not yet been outlined.

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