Editorial: Indexing CSU Membership Fees Is Hypocrisy

Graphic Madeleine Gendreau

Undergraduates will vote at the end of November on whether or not to index the per-credit fee charged by the Concordia Student Union to the inflation rate. That this referendum question will be on the ballot is a prime example of the union’s hypocrisy.

The CSU opposed the provincial government’s decision in 2013 to index tuition fees to the annual rise in disposable household income. Its official position calls for university tuition to be frozen at 2007 levels instead.

And yet indexation is precisely what CSU executives have proposed as a solution to their own unsustainable financial situation.

Arguing in favour of indexing the fee levy, union executives say the CSU’s expenses rise every year due to inflation and yearly increases in employees’ salaries.

Ironically, that’s the same argument advanced by university administrators and the provincial government in defending the indexation of tuition—the very argument largely dismissed by the student movement.

Universities’ expenses increase as a result of inflation, like the CSU’s.

And as is the case with the CSU’s employees, university employees are guaranteed yearly salary increases through their collective agreements.

If universities’ operating budgets don’t rise over time, salaries will eat up an ever-larger share of their budgets. University administrators maintain that indexation is needed for financial sustainability.

It’s logically inconsistent and highly problematic that the CSU roundly denounces the indexation of tuition with one breath and asks that its membership fees be indexed with the next. The union’s calls for a tuition freeze are less meaningful when it’s simultaneously sending the message “do as I say, not as I do.”

When the provincial government sought to increase tuition fees in 2012, students cited disasters like the Îlot Voyageur, a real estate project that nearly bankrupted the Université du Québec à Montréal in 2007, as examples of financial mismanagement by top university administrators.

Quebec’s student federations argued universities weren’t underfunded; instead, funds were being poorly spent. Before asking students for more money, universities should first look inwardly at their own spending, they said.

It’s sound advice, and it applies to student associations too. Like the province’s universities, the CSU should first consider how its present-day funding could be spent more effectively. As in any bureaucracy, it’s highly probable there are opportunities to trim expenses and become more efficient without cutting services.

Documents distributed at the last CSU council meeting show this year’s orientation activities came in under budget. It’s an encouraging sign that this crop of CSU executives is trying to be fiscally responsible.

But the CSU is also on course to run a projected deficit of over $135,000 this school year. The explanation for the deficit is rather weak—CSU president Benjamin Prunty told The Link last month that the union’s finance team didn’t know how the university collects and distributes student fees, leading them to overestimate how much funding they’d get this year.

If the CSU wants students to pay higher membership fees, the way it spends its funding must be efficient. The CSU must also be completely transparent about where student funds go.

Unfortunately, students don’t have easy access to their union’s budget documents. The CSU’s outdated website is apparently so difficult to update that it’s fallen into disuse, and the latest budget documents posted on the website date back to 2011. It’s an unacceptable situation that must be rectified.

With the CSU facing an imbalance between revenue and ever-growing expenses, union executives are concerned about the possibility of a negative cash flow. The financial sustainability of the CSU’s operations account is at stake, so students will have little choice but to approve the union’s request to index its fees.

Still, we at The Link have very real reservations about endorsing a “yes” vote as long as the union hasn’t proven itself to be both wise and transparent with student funds.