SSMU Coun­cil

Who ben­e­fits from an­cil­lary fee in­creases? “The ad­min­is­tra­tion.”

The McGill Daily - - Contents - Xavier Richer Vis The Mcgill Daily

On Thurs­day March 23, the Stu­dents’ So­ci­ety of Mcgill Univer­sity (SSMU) Leg­isla­tive Coun­cil gath­ered for its penul­ti­mate meet­ing of this aca­demic year. Coun­cil heard one no­tice of mo­tion re­gard­ing amend­ments to the in­ter­nal reg­u­la­tions of fi­nance, two pre­sen­ta­tions (one of which was an up­date from VP Univer­sity Af­fairs Erin So­bat on Mem­o­ran­dum of Agree­ment ne­go­ti­a­tions), and four mo­tions brought for­ward by coun­cil­lors.

The mo­tions in­cluded a “NO” en­dorse­ment for the ref­er­en­dum on an in­crease to the Athletics and Recre­ation an­cil­lary fee, a mo­tion re­gard­ing con­tin­ued SSMU par­tic­i­pa­tion in the As­so­ci­a­tion for a Voice in Ed­u­ca­tion in Que­bec (AVEQ), a mo­tion re­gard­ing re­vi­sions to the Eq­uity Pol­icy, and a mo­tion re­gard­ing un­der­grad­u­ate sen­a­to­rial elec­tions, all of which passed. Coun­cil also heard re­ports from com­mit­tees and ex­ec­u­tives.

Say­ing “NO” to fee in­creases

A mo­tion was pre­sented to Coun­cil which would en­dorse a “NO” vote in the up­com­ing ref­er­en­dum ques­tion re­gard­ing an Athletics and Recre­ation an­cil­lary fee in­crease.

Ear­lier in March, a Win­ter 2017 SSMU Gen­eral Assem­bly (GA) mo­tion was pre­sented which, if en­acted, would have man­dated SSMU to re­ject ref­er­en­dum ques­tions seek­ing to raise an­cil­lary fees un­til McGill ac­knowl­edged stu­dents’ con­cerns with these fees. More­over, the mo­tion de­manded that Mcgill pro­vide yearly fi­nan­cial re­ports to SSMU ex­ec­u­tives about the al­lo­ca­tion of an­cil­lary fees, and that a mora­to­rium be im­posed on in­creas­ing over­head charges.

Sim­ply put, over­head charges are in­curred when the Univer­sity bills stu­dent-fee-funded units for cen­tral ad­min­is­tra­tive ser­vices, which are au­to­mat­i­cally pro­vided through the op­er­at­ing bud­get.

Over­head charges were ve­he­mently con­tested dur­ing the 2012 Que­bec stu­dent protests, and yet de­spite years of stu­dent ad­vo­cacy, lit­tle has been done to curb them at Mcgill.

Al­though it ini­tially passed at the GA, the mo­tion con­cern­ing the Athletics an­cil­lary fee was in­val­i­dated when SSMU learned of a pre-ex­ist­ing con­tract with the ad­min­is­tra­tion, negat­ing their abil­ity to en­act such a mo­tion.

At Thurs­day’s coun­cil meet­ing, movers of the mo­tion to en­dorse a “NO” vote said that “re­cent Athletics and Recre­ation bud­get num­bers in­di­cate that it is within the univer­sity’s fi­nan­cial ca­pac­ity to not only re­duce over­head charges, but to in­crease fund­ing trans­fers from the cen­tral op­er­at­ing bud­get to fee funded units.” They felt that a “NO” vote would send a clear mes­sage to the ad­min­is­tra­tion that stu­dents were no longer com­fort­able with over­head charges.

“[The ad­min­is­tra­tion] has set up this un­sus­tain­able bud­getary model where ev­ery few years, their costs are in­creas­ing, and ev­ery few years, they come back to us for [a fee] in­crease, and they say ‘Don’t you care about these ser­vices? Give us an in­crease,’ and they have no in­cen­tive to change their bud­getary model around the over­head charges,” said So­bat, in de­fense of the mo­tion.

“They have a blank slate, or a free pass ba­si­cally, to keep in­creas­ing [over­head charges and an­cil­lary fees] be­cause we’ve never re­jected that kind of in­crease,” he con­tin­ued. “It’s in the in­ter­est of show­ing the ad­min­is­tra­tion that as a col­lec­tive stu­dent body, we are not in sup­port of this fund­ing model, and want to see a rein­vest­ment – not even a rein­vest­ment – but a re­duc­tion of those over­head charges, so that the money that we pay to Athletics ac­tu­ally goes in fact to Athletics and not back to the cen­tral ad­min­is­tra­tion to re­dis­tribute else­where.”

How­ever, Athletics Rep­re­sen­ta­tive Yue Jiao raised con­cerns with the mo­tion.

“Why is it the un­der­stand­ing that hav­ing a ‘NO’ vote will re­sult in the [ad­min­is­tra­tion] un­der­stand­ing that these over­head charges are too much?” she said. “The re­al­ity is that a ‘NO’ vote is ac­tu­ally go­ing to cause Athletics and Recre­ation to put them­selves in a sit­u­a­tion where they have to re- eval­u­ate their bud­get and that will af­fect the ser­vices that are be­ing pro­vided to stu­dents.”

“Es­pe­cially if a ‘NO’ vote is as­so­ci­ated with a strong mes­sage over over­head charges,” So­bat re­sponded, “it is send­ing a mes­sage to the Univer­sity that ac­tu­ally their fi­nan­cial prac­tices do need to change. We’ve seen from the Athletics bud­get that they at times have been able to re­duce those over­head charges or in­crease the trans­fers of money that they’re giv­ing back to Athletics for par­tic­u­lar ini­tia­tives.”

“[A “NO” vote] shows that stu­dents want to see that kind of fund­ing model, and it is not the same thing as us just want­ing to cut ser­vices,” he added. “This is a bet­ter mes­sage than us just say­ing, ‘No, we just don’t want to in­crease the fees.’”

A num­ber of coun­cil­lors agreed with So­bat. Sci­ence Rep­re­sen­ta­tive Caitlin Mehro­tra said that the ad­min­is­tra­tion’s de­mand for fee in­creases does “kind of sound like a threat,” and Se­nate Cau­cus Rep­re­sen­ta­tive Wil­liam Cleve­land agreed that the ad­min­is­tra­tion had to be shown that “this is not ac­cept­able.”

In con­clud­ing the de­bate, Jiao asked So­bat “Who do you think would ben­e­fit from the fee in­crease?” So­bat sim­ply an­swered, “the ad­min­is­tra­tion.” The mo­tion en­dors­ing a “NO” vote passed with 13 in fa­vor, four against, and five ab­stain­ing.

Re­struc­tur­ing the Eq­uity Pol­icy

Coun­cil ap­proved a mo­tion re­gard­ing re­vi­sions to SSMU’S Eq- uity Pol­icy, which had been tabled since Fe­bru­ary.

“[The mo­tion] was pri­mar­ily a re­struc­tur­ing of the pol­icy to make it more clear and ac­ces­si­ble to peo­ple try­ing to ac­cess it, as well hon­estly to in­ter­pret it for the Eq­uity Com­mis­sion­ers,” ex­plained So­bat. “The next step once it’s ap­proved will be to de­velop some new com­mu­ni­ca­tion tools around it: we’d like to have to flow chart to clearly out­line the process, and some re­sources to make it as ac­ces­si­ble as pos­si­ble be­cause we don’t want peo­ple to dive into this doc­u­ment as a first step if they’re look­ing for re­course in SSMU.”

So­bat ex­plained that the mo­tion also out­lined the scope and ju­ris­dic­tion of the Eq­uity Pol­icy, clar­i­fy­ing plans when is­sues out­side of SSMU in other fac­ulty as­so­ci­a­tions arise, and how to re­fer said is­sues to other fac­ulty eq­uity com­mit­tees. The mo­tion passed unan­i­mously.

SSMU par­tic­i­pa­tion in AVEQ

Coun­cil also ap­proved a mo­tion re­gard­ing SSMU par­tic­i­pa­tion in AVEQ. Last year in ref­er­en­dum, the stu­dent body re­jected an of­fer to join AVEQ, but SSMU nonethe­less serves as an of­fi­cial ob­server to the stu­dent fed­er­a­tion. SSMU ex­ec­u­tives have ar­gued that join­ing a stu­dent fed­er­a­tion would greatly in­flu­ence the So­ci­ety’s abil­ity to in­flu­ence pro­vin­cial and fed­eral pol­i­tics at a higher level.

De­spite the stu­dent body vot­ing “NO” to join­ing AVEQ, more stu­dents voted to ab­stain in the ref­er­en­dum than voted for or against, with some posit­ing a “lack of aware­ness of the role of stu­dent fed­er­a­tions in gen­eral and of the AVEQ in par­tic­u­lar.”

The mo­tion ap­proved at Thurs­day’s coun­cil will al­low SSMU to re­main an ob­server at AVEQ un­til the end of 2017, and al­low SSMU del­e­gates to con­tinue at­tend­ing AVEQ mem­ber as­sem­blies. The mo­tion also stip­u­lated that SSMU will con­tinue to “ed­u­cate its mem­bers re­gard­ing the ex­is­tence and role of AVEQ,” and bring an­other ref­er­en­dum ques­tion re­gard­ing af­fil­i­a­tion to AVEQ to Coun­cil for con­sid­er­a­tion in the Fall 2017 se­mes­ter.

The mo­tion passed with 14 in favour, six against, and three ab­stain­ing.

Sen­a­to­rial elec­tions

In Novem­ber, Coun­cil al­lowed un­der­grad­u­ate Engi­neer­ing sen­a­to­rial elec­tions to be or­ga­nized by the Engi­neer­ing Un­der­grad­u­ate So­ci­ety (EUS) rather than by Elec­tions SSMU. At the time, it was ar­gued that hold­ing sen­a­to­rial elec­tions along­side the elec­tion of EUS ex­ec­u­tives would in­crease voter turnout and in­ter­est in Se­na­tor po­si­tions, with­out over­bur­den­ing the EUS.

Dur­ing the Win­ter 2017 sen­a­to­rial elec­tions, this was ex­panded to all fac­ulty as­so­ci­a­tions. Se­nate Cau­cus Rep­re­sen­ta­tive Joshua Chin pre­sented a mo­tion to stan­dard­ize this prac­tice, of­fi­cially amend­ing both the In­ter­nal Reg­u­la­tions of Rep­re­sen­ta­tion and Ad­vo­cacy, and the In­ter­nal Reg­u­la­tions of Elec­tions and Ref­er­enda.

The mo­tion passed with no de­bate, 22 in fa­vor, and one ab­sten­tion.

“[The ad­min­is­tra­tion] has set up this un­sus­tain­able bud­getary model where ev­ery few years their costs are in­creas­ing, and ev­ery few years, they come back to us for [a fee] in­crease.” —Erin So­bat VP Univer­sity Af­fairs of the Stu­dents’ So­ci­ety of Mcgill Univer­sity

Conor Nick­er­son | The Mcgill Daily

SSMU Coun­cil.

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