Paul's Internet Landfill/ 2016/ End of the Road for WPIRG

End of the Road for WPIRG

Surprise, surprise. WPIRG's existence is under threat again. On Wednesday the Federation of Students will decide whether to hold a referendum to make the WPIRG fee opt-in. This will be portrayed as giving students some choice over their supplementary fees, but in reality it is a referendum on WPIRG's existence. Few people opt out of the fee each term, and few people will opt in. Without its funding of $4.75 per term from every undergraduate, the organization will fold and the naive libertarians on Reddit will have their victory.

If this challenge to WPIRG's existence does not succeed then there will be another one in a few years, and if that fails then there will be another one a few years after that. WPIRG's time on this earth is extremely limited, and I have mixed feelings about that.

I am not very happy with WPIRG these days, and am not that interested in writing a long, well-researched defence of them. I want to get some stuff off my chest, and in doing so I will spout some (inadvertent) inaccuracies, and I will speak in more unkind terms about the assorted parties than is expedient. You have been warned.


Here's a bit of context: WPIRG stands for the Waterloo Public Interest Research Group. Despite the name, in practice they are an organization that engages in lefty activist causes for "social and environmental justice". They tend towards radicalism and tend to attract radicals, but many people's interactions (including mine) with the organization are more moderate. Their mandate is to work with undergraduates, since undergraduates pay for them. Unlike the Federation of Students, they are not limited to campus activities or causes.

WPIRG lives in a weird gray zone within the University of Waterloo. They are funded by a $4.75 levy charged to every undergraduate student every term. This levy is refundable, but as far as I know this requires showing up in person at the WPIRG office (this used to be the case, anyways). They are not an official university organization, however, and they are independent from the Federation of Students.

WPIRG has been around since the 1970s (1971?). It was inspired by Ralph Nader when he went on a tour encouraging students to set up "public interest research groups". I believe WPIRG was one of the first such groups established in Ontario, and it was one of the best funded. There are other PIRGs, including a relatively recent one at Wilfrid Laurier called LSPIRG.

The Campus Conservatives hate WPIRG because they hate left wingers and hate taxes; it burns them up to think that leftist radicals are funded to organize on campus. Other naive libertarians hate that the fee is opt-in instead of opt-out. Many other students (I would wager the majority) do not care much one way or another. Compared to other student fees (especially the ridiculous Federation of Students fee) the WPIRG fee is trivial.

I have known about WPIRG since I was living in Toronto. The existence of WPIRG was one of the reasons I chose to do grad school at the University of Waterloo. I am no longer involved with them, but I have been involved in various ways over the years:

Every few years there are threats to WPIRG's existence. Some research would be helpful, but here is what I remember off the top of my head:

The Thesis

Why WPIRG Should Exist

Some of WPIRG's successes

What WPIRG Gets Wrong

How to Help WPIRG

If you are interested in campaigning for WPIRG's continued existence then here are some suggestions:

What Makes Me Mad