It’s checkout time for MPIRG checkoff

Imagine a student organization setting up shop on campus whose purpose is to espouse political views. The group studies issues about which it feels students should know and care. Being conservative, this organization publishes anti-abortion material, argues in favor of increased defense spending and speaks out against affirmative action. The new organization demands that it receive a share of student fees. Of course it realizes some students might not share its views, and therefore makes such student support voluntary.
Does this sound familiar? If one reverses the ideological assumptions, it looks a lot like the Minnesota Public Interest Research Group. But this conservative group does not exist, and neither should MPIRG, at least not with its current fees structure. MPIRG should be stripped of the unfair advantage it enjoys as a checkoff on students’ fee statements.
Having the checkoff gives MPIRG an enormous advantage when it comes to generating funding. Even though a large percentage of students choose to opt out, the question remains: Why should MPIRG be singled out for funding?
In the past MPIRG has dealt with issues including keeping motorized vehicles out of the Boundary Waters Canoe Area, supporting a higher minimum wage and fighting urban sprawl. There is no doubt many students feel passionately about these issues. MPIRG’s special status is the result of a student petition drive in the ’70s. Yet, instead of seeking to generate general student involvement, MPIRG follows a consistent liberal agenda.
There is no way MPIRG can represent the political views of the entire student body. So in these days of diversity, why does MPIRG alone enjoy the checkoff while other political groups are struggling just to exist? Only allowing MPIRG to receive fees amounts to nothing less than forcing an ideological straitjacket onto students. Either their fees can support the agenda of this group or nothing. At this point some would say that interested students should just spend their $2.50 on another organization they favor. But why does MPIRG alone have access to this powerful funding mechanism?
The $2.50 checkoff MPIRG enjoys simply should not exist. No group — liberal, conservative or Jesse Ventura-activist — should benefit from such an unfair funding mechanism. MPIRG should certainly exist, but its views should not be elevated above others. If people really and truly believe in MPIRG’s mission, they should have no trouble generating funding through direct means. Perhaps MPIRG will lose some funding through overhead, but that seems a small price to pay for the University not to make value judgements about political issues.
Perhaps a University political issues society, funded by student fees, should be formed on campus. It would have the expressed purpose of holding political discussions and bringing in speakers of national importance several times a quarter to generate interest and excitement about the issues of our day. One thing it would not do is enforce an ideological orthodoxy. By only allowing MPIRG access to the money in our fee statements, the University unjustly places MPIRG’s concerns above others.