Divided Along Faculty Lines?

Concordia Undergrads To Vote on Fee Levy Changes in March

Councillors vote on a motion at the CSU special council meeting on Feb. 19. Photo Michael Wrobel

Just as taxes are a source of tension outside university, fee levies are proving to be a politically divisive issue on campus.

Among those unhappy with the fee levy status quo are John Molson School of Business students. At the Concordia Student Union council meeting on Feb. 12, JMSB representatives presented two petitions asking that referendum questions on the fee levy system be included on the ballot in the CSU general elections in March.

One seeks an end to business students being charged fee levies for six campus groups and the other looks to change the way that fee levies are voted upon and charged to students, asking that votes be held on a per-faculty basis.

“Once we were made aware of the deadline to submit the petitions and had the questions drafted, we were left with less than a day to collect the signatures,” said JMSB councillor Michael Richardson. “The fact we received such overwhelming support from students in less than a day shows how strongly they feel about the issue.”

Concordia students are automatically charged fee levies on a per-credit basis that go toward different campus groups—including the Centre for Gender Advocacy, the People’s Potato and campus media such as The Link.

Students can individually opt out of each fee levy and request a refund, however.

The JMSB students’ petitions won’t be put to a referendum in the upcoming CSU elections because they are improperly formulated, according to the CSU’s chief electoral officer, Andre-Marcel Baril. But, during the general elections, Concordia undergraduates will get to vote on a CSU-approved question about introducing per-faculty voting on fee levies.

Worried about how such a change would affect their funding, fee-levy groups intend to make a stand when the election campaign revs up.

JMSB-led Petitions Rejected as Referendum Questions

Both petitions were presented to council by Richardson. The first proposes that only faculties that vote in favour of a fee levy be subject to it, instead of votes on fee levies being binding for all faculties.

The second petition asks that the members of the CSU registered in JMSB no longer be required to pay fees to the Art Matters Festival, Cinema Politica, Community University Television, the Concordia Food Coalition, Le Frigo Vert and the Quebec Public Interest Research Group-Concordia as of April 1.

“The underlying issue of this initiative—[rising] fee levies for services underused by JMSB students—has been a preoccupation at JMSB for quite some time now and we were trying to find a way to address that,” Richardson said.

According to JMSB councillor Maylen Cytryn, funding fee-levy groups on a per-faculty basis would be “a positive change for JMSB students.”

“When signatures were being collected, an overwhelming amount of students were surprised that they pay these fees and agreed that they’ve never used their services,” she said. “By having faculty-specific fee levies, students will have the choice to support initiatives that they truly care about.”

Baril informed council through a statement read aloud at the Feb. 19 meeting that the petitions could not become referendum questions in the CSU general elections because they were improperly worded and too complex.

“I have no choice but [to] inform council that I will refuse to put these on the ballot or on the announcement of polls in their current state and I recommend that they are reviewed by council and the Judicial Board,” he wrote in the statement.

“There are no questions posed in either of the petitions; rather they are resolutions or statements. If they would have been phrased properly, they still would have had more than one question posed per petition.”

According to Baril, students would have to vote individually to rescind each of the fee levies of the six groups mentioned in the second petition, not collectively in a sort of omnibus question as was proposed.

A Reformulated Referendum Question

With the CEO having rejected putting the petitions on the ballot, councillors debated the merits of moving forward with the issue of per-faculty funding.

“Right now, [the process for opting-out] is horrible, and I don’t even want to go through the troubles of trying to opt-out because it’s not even worth my time, to be honest,” engineering and computer science councillor Kyle Arseneau told council.

“But for some people it might be and the way it’s done right now is not acceptable, and it’s something that should be tackled […] by the end of this year.”

Fine Arts Student Alliance Clubs and Services Coordinator Jeremy Blinkhorn disagreed with those councillors who said it’s currently difficult to opt-out of fee levies.

“I don’t know if the people who signed this petition or have organized this petition have actually contacted these associations or [fee-levy groups] to opt-out, because in my experience, it’s a simple process,” he said at the meeting.

Several councillors said fee-levy groups aren’t effectively communicating with students and that this is partly to blame for why students may have qualms about funding them.

“[Fee-levy groups] need to do a better job on outreach, community outreach, not just to their core constituencies but outside their bubbles,” said arts and science councillor Nikos Pidiktakis.

“Students in JMSB need to equally inform themselves on these issues, inform themselves on what these services actually do.”

After 25 speakers had voiced their opinions, engineering and computer science councillor Chuck Wilson put forward a motion to place a referendum question on the ballot asking students whether they want fee levies to be voted upon in a per-faculty manner, in keeping with the spirit of the JMSB-led petition.

Council voted in favour of that motion, but VP Academic and Advocacy Gene Morrow said the question was “incomplete.”

“I just want to point out haste does not help,” he said. “I really want to reinforce that fact, the fact that we’re just rushing to try to get answers to things. We’re not doing things carefully.”

Deciding to give the ballot question a sober second thought, council later voted to reconsider the question that was passed.

The final, reformulated question approved by council asks students whether they want votes on fee levies to be “asked on a per-faculty basis” and the results of votes on fee levies to be binding only along faculty lines, as well as whether they want the CSU to “take whatever steps are needed” to implement such changes to the fee levy system.

The motion passed also states that independent students will be considered a faculty for the purposes of faculty-based questions.

Consequences of Changing Fee Levy System Unknown

During the debate on the referendum question, arts and science councillor Alanna Stacey asked Richardson what the consequences of per-faculty funding for fee-levy groups would be.

“I’ll be completely honest, the consequences of the long-term implementation of this [change] are not something that we considered,” he responded.

“We brought this petition saying that [for] six fee-levy groups, JMSB students—or 500 of them—don’t want to pay for this anymore, so we should be asked on a per-faculty basis whether or not we want to pay for these.

“People are considering this as a huge middle finger. It’s not the case at all,” he continued. “In fact, we’ve been forced to pay these fees from the beginning, so we’re trying to correct a wrong, if anything.”

Christina Xydous, the administrative and volunteer coordinator at QPIRG Concordia, told The Link that the university’s fee-levy groups feel such a question “undermines a lot of the work that we do and undermines our ability to do our work effectively.”

“It could [impact] everything from the ability to secure financing to how [we] manage our membership,” she said.

“Certain fee-levy groups operate crisis service centres, for instance, for people who are going through a very difficult and hard situation,” she continued. “Are we going to be carding people before being able to offer them services, to see whether or not they’re entitled to that service? It’s awkward to say the least. It could be quite complicated and, in fact, might not be practicable in other cases.”

Asked whether it’s a coincidence that a petition initiated by business students is targeting fee-levy groups that could be seen as more left-wing, Xydous said she “would shy away from those kinds of black-and-white characterizations of the divisions.”

“I happen to know that there are a lot of students that are part of the JMSB that do appreciate and that take part in fee-levy groups,” she said. “It’s no truer that the petition that was brought forward by JMSB [students] would speak on behalf of all JMSB students any more than anything that the CSU does would be speaking entirely on behalf of all undergraduate students.”

—with files from Colin Harris