“I didn’t even know I was paying them.”
The statement above is one that was echoed frequently across UMass Lowell students on campus. The Massachusetts Public Interest Research Group is a non-profit student advocacy group that strives to make environmental and social changes, which most students can get behind. However, very few students are aware that they are billed each year — automatically— by MassPIRG for their funding.
Each year, MassPIRG bills all students $11 in their student invoices and collects a strikingly large portion of student money. In 2018 alone, all students (more than 11,000) were billed with just under 300 students waving the fee. This means that MassPIRG collected well over $100,000 from students, and it is uncertain what percentage of those students were unaware that they were funding MassPIRG.
This is not to say that the money is being spent unwisely; MassPIRG is a huge advocate for many issues that affect much of UMass Lowell, Massachusetts and the country as a whole. Issues such as feeding food-deprived students or engaging students to be active political members are just a couple of initiatives that MassPIRG is behind. However, many students feel like they are deceived.
“I’m well aware of [MassPIRG],” said Dashley Ruiz, a freshman chemical engineering major. “They came to my high school and I like what they’re doing in the community, but the money they’re taking from me is money I could use.”
MassPIRG representatives and members are well known around campus for classroom speeches to talk about their policy platforms and ask for student support and membership on a semi-annual basis. Often, students feel pressured to support MassPIRG because representatives come by classes late and stand by doors that students have to walk through to exit.
“It happened at least five times,” said Ryan White, an Economics major alumni. “I never paid them a lot of attention, but they definitely try to guilt trip you… I must’ve been paying them too, because I never checked to see what my student bill was for. I just saw the amount and paid the thing.”
White also said that he did not really know what MassPIRG does, and that he thinks that not all of the money is being spent how the organization says it is being spent.
“Are there figures that back up what they say? Or are there initiatives the only indication of how that money is being spent?”
Even though many students unknowingly pay for the initiatives MassPIRG presents on campus, the students are not always upset about it.
“It’s only $11 and I think it’s being used efficiently,” said Tim O’Brien, a marketing major. “Needs that affect students and life on campus is being improved because of my money. I had no idea they took it, but isn’t the fee optional?”
O’Brien is right, the fee is technically optional. However, the fee has to be waved by each student in their SIS account. MassPIRG has made the fee something that all students pay by default, instead of making the fee an opt-in for the students.
“That’s not right,” said a student who wished to remain anonymous about the default policy. “I can’t believe they can just take money like that. It’s (expletive).”
Another nearby student launched into an explicit tirade, cursing out MassPIRG for collecting money from students and calling the organization satanic, among other insults.
MassPIRG recently said in a sit down with the Connector’s Managing Editor Andrew Sciascia that they have no plans to make the $11 fee opt-in instead of making students pay by default. In fact, a MassPIRG representative said that the current plan is “more functional and efficient” rather than having to “run around convincing students to donate.”
Some students have proposed the idea of defunding MassPIRG in the April Student Government Association elections, while others have proposed that the $11 fee is more publicly presented to students so each student can decide on their own merits if they would like to pledge money to the organization.