An­cil­lary fees: what they are and why we’re dis­cussing them

Agree­ment with Mcgill means fee in­creases must go to ref­er­en­dum

The McGill Daily - - Contents - Ma­rina Cupido The Mcgill Daily

Ex­ec­u­tives of the Stu­dents’ So­ci­ety of Mcgill Univer­sity (SSMU) were re­cently in­formed that SSMU is con­trac­tu­ally bound to put any an­cil­lary fee in­creases re­quested by the Univer­sity to ref­er­en­dum. Un­der the pro­vin­cial act gov­ern­ing the ac­cred­i­ta­tion of stu­dent as­so­ci­a­tions, SSMU’S Leg­isla­tive Coun­cil would or­di­nar­ily have the power to de­bate and re­ject such fee in­creases; this newly-dis­cov­ered con­tract with McGill negates that power.

Al­though this con­tract has been in ef­fect since 2010, the cur­rent SSMU ex­ec­u­tive team only be­came aware of it in the con­text of a mo­tion against an­cil­lary fee in­creases which passed at SSMU’S most re­cent Gen­eral Assem­bly (GA). Fol­low­ing the pass­ing of this mo­tion, which had been moved by VP Univer­sity Af­fairs Erin So­bat, the ad­min­is­tra­tion ap­par­ently in­formed SSMU that the pre-ex­ist­ing con­tract ef­fec­tively ren­dered it non­vi­able.

What are an­cil­lary fees?

Mcgill un­der­grad­u­ates pay six dif- fer­ent an­cil­lary fees to the Univer­sity. These fees fi­nance a range of ser­vices and pro­grammes, from the Of­fice for Stu­dents with Dis­abil­i­ties to Mcgill’s Athletics fa­cil­i­ties. An­cil­lary fees are non-opt-out­able, and they are ini­ti­ated and gov­erned by stu­dent ref­er­en­dums.

These fees are au­to­mat­i­cally ad­justed to re­flect in­fla­tion, but ev­ery so often, Mcgill re­quests a sig­nif­i­cant in­crease. So­bat sat down with The Daily to ex­plain why this hap­pens.

“The way [Mcgill has] set up most of these units – in par­tic­u­lar ones like Stu­dent Ser­vices or Athletics – is to be very re­liant on stu­dent fee fund­ing,” he ex­plained, “and there are in­creases to their costs for salaries, for in­fla­tion, for main­te­nance of their fa­cil­i­ties and build­ings over time, and so as a way to ad­dress those in­creased costs, [ad­min­is­tra­tors], on a pretty reg­u­lar cy­cle, come back to stu­dents re­quest­ing an in­crease.”

Ac­cord­ing to So­bat, this pat­tern of fi­nanc­ing is un­sus­tain­able, hence his at­tempt to freeze in­creases on the Athletics an­cil­lary fee through the afore­men­tioned GA mo­tion. He told The Daily that this re­liance on stu­dent fees to run cer­tain ser­vices is al­lowed to oc­cur be­cause the ser­vices in ques­tion are con­sid­ered non-es­sen­tial.

“In some­thing like Athletics or stu­dent ser­vices we have ob­vi­ously been ad­vo­cat­ing for quite a while that the Univer­sity stop charg­ing over­head fees [...] to those units,” So­bat con­tin­ued. “For ex­am­ple, in the case of Stu­dent Ser­vices in the Brown Build­ing, that has been deemed not cen­tral to [...] the pur­pose of the Univer­sity and so the cen­tral op­er­at­ing bud­get doesn’t pay for main­te­nance of the Brown Build­ing – that comes out of the stu­dent ser­vices bud­get.”

Lim­it­ing SSMU’S in­de­pen­dence

In 2010, SSMU’S ex­ec­u­tive team signed a con­tract with Mcgill which stip­u­lates that when­ever the Univer­sity re­quests an an­cil­lary fee in­crease, SSMU must send that in­crease di­rectly to a ref­er­en­dum. SSMU Coun­cil, which is com­posed of rep­re­sen­ta­tives from ev­ery Mcgill fac­ulty and is in­tended to act as the So­ci­ety’s main leg­isla­tive body, has no op­por­tu­nity to de­bate and po­ten­tially re­ject the re­quested in­crease.

In an email to The Daily, Deputy Provost (Stu­dent Life and Learn- ing) Ol­livier Dyens ex­plained his view of this con­tract. When asked if, in his opin­ion, it lim­its stu­dent democ­racy at Mcgill to a dam­ag­ing de­gree, he re­sponded em­phat­i­cally in the neg­a­tive.

“We be­lieve this Agree­ment ac­tu­ally strength­ens ‘ro­bust stu­dent democ­racy’ be­cause it gives stu­dents – all stu­dents, not just a small group – the power to ac­cept or re­ject a pro­posed fee in­crease,” Dyens replied. “That’s di­rect democ­racy.”

An­other is­sue that has caused con­cern is the fact that this con­tract has no end date, meaning that it could the­o­ret­i­cally re­main in ef­fect in­def­i­nitely. It’s un­clear why this is the case, but So­bat ex­plained that he’s com­mit­ted to do­ing what­ever he can to chal­lenge the con­tract.

“I think that’s some­thing cer­tainly that should be looked at,” he said, “and ob­vi­ously the ideal time would be in the con­text of the cur­rent Mem­o­ran­dum of Agree­ment [MOA] ne­go­ti­a­tions [...] I hope that the in­com­ing ex­ec­u­tives will be in­ter­ested in and con­cerned about. I’m go­ing to do more re­search both in a le­gal sense [ and] in the po­lit­i­cal sense [...] and per­haps also work­ing with other as­so­ci­a­tions through a pro­vin­cial stu­dent fed­er­a­tion.”

Ma­rina Djur­de­vic | The Mcgill Daily

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