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PGSS disputes fee creation for Rutherford Park, Midnight Kitchen

Graduate students will be able to vote on seven questions in the Post-Graduate Students’ Society (PGSS) Winter referendum period from  March 13 to 21.

Fund for Rutherford Park

One question seeks to levy a non-opt-outable fee of $3 per semester for PGSS members, up to and including the Winter 2019 semester. The fund would raise a total of $230,000 to $250,000 and will go towards updating Rutherford Park (Reservoir Field).

PGSS members have not previously paid such a fee, according to PGSS Academic Affairs Officer Adam Bouchard, as they traditionally use the athletics facilities less than undergraduate students.

Rutherford Park renovations, which would be coordinated by McGill Athletics, would include an artificial turf, a full sized soccer pitch, and lighting for evening events, which could be used by PGSS members.

“PGSS and its members will benefit greatly from this improvement in infrastructure right next to our building,” Bouchard said.

“Recently PGSS has been working with Drew Love, the director of athletics, to adjust the user fees and propose this project,” said Bouchard, who is also the chair of the “Yes” campaign for the question.

Elizabeth Cawley, PGSS members services officer and chair of the “No” campaign against the question, cited the $116.42 fee PGSS members already pay to McGill Athletics.

“Graduate students pay this high fee every semester and yet almost every service within athletics is pay-per-use—you have to pay an additional fee to take classes, for intramural sports, for access to the fitness centre etc,” she said. “I think that this fee should be voted down and athletics should be forced to re-evaluate their use of student money before asking us for a fee increase again.”

—Cece Zhang

Midnight Kitchen fee

This question proposes an opt-outable $0.50 per semester fee to fund Midnight Kitchen (MK), an organization that provides by-donation lunches to students throughout the week. It is currently financed solely by members of the Students’ Society of McGill University (SSMU).

Lorenzo Daieff, PGSS councillor and chair of the “Yes” campaign for the question, said Midnight Kitchen provides a valuable service to the entire student body.

“It seems fair and desirable for graduates, who currently do not support the MK in such a way, to make a similar—if not equal—contribution to a service that is, has, and always will be accessible to graduates,” Daieff said.

However, Jonathan Mooney, PGSS secretary-general and chair of the “No” committee, said the PGSS currently already pays over $4,000 annually to SSMU for access to its services, and the proposed fee would be an overlap.

“When you pay a personal fee to a service—rather than just through PGSS—you should be guaranteed the legal right to oversee how it is spent,” Mooney said. “Since Midnight Kitchen is a service of the SSMU, PGSS members would gain no legal right to determine how Midnight Kitchen is operated by paying this fee [….] We would simply be giving away money with no added accountability in return.”

Daieff noted that MK does not receive any funding from SSMU, so the new fee would not constitute a “double-pay.”

“[We] stress that grads are not “buying their way in” into the MK via the levy; they’ve always had access to the MK, and will continue to, even if the referendum fails,” Daieff said.

—Cece Zhang

uApply fee

Another question addresses the uApply application service fee charged to all graduate students. Currently $102.60, the question would increase the fee to $120.00 gradually over five years, starting this June. Mooney explained that the fee increase would benefit future graduate students.

“McGill made a big investment in the UApply system; graduate students can […] pay one fee for two graduate programs in two different departments, [whereas] before you would have to pay two fees for two applications to different programs,” he said. “[Changes have] made it a simpler process.”

According to Mooney, McGill spent more money than originally budgeted to create these changes, so the application fee increase is a way to balance out the costs.

There is no “No” campaign against this question.

—Chelsey Ju

Needs-Based Bursary fee

Another referendum question deals with a decrease in the Needs-Based Bursary Fee from the current amount of $4.01 to $1.01.

The Needs-Based Bursary fee was originally increased to $4.01 with the purpose of providing financial aid to students who demonstrated need. Priority for receiving this fund was given to students who were caring for dependents, or experienced specific hardships.

PGSS Financial Affairs Officer Erik Larson explained that the purpose of modifying this fee originally was to generate more revenue than would be required during a fiscal year. Now, the target amount of $150,000 has been reached for the fund.

“This additional revenue was to be used to create an endowment fund, which would be matched by the university,” Larson said. “At this point, we have the money ready to be endowed, and are negotiating the terms of endowment with the University.”

After creating this endowment, the idea is to use interest generated by the fund itself to meet the financial needs of the program.

“The new levy will be used to grow the endowment fund annually, which will allow the program to expand while reducing the current financial burden on students,” Larson said.

There is no “No” campaign against this question.

—Chelsey Ju

Increase to the PGSS membership fee

This question seeks to increase the PGSS regular membership fee from its current amount of $31.82 per semester to $33.33 starting in Fall 2014.

According to Larson, the additional money will go toward an increase in rent for Thomson House and the Coach House following ongoing negotiations with McGill.

“At this point just in our preliminary negotiations we realized that their increase in our rent is going to jack-up our rent prices a significant amount,” he said.

The increase has been calculated based on the expected worst-case scenario for the rent increase. Larson said any surplus would go toward new PGSS initiatives such as a free daycare service for members’.

There is no “No” campaign against this question.

—Sam Pinto

Increase in fee for PGSS Grants Program

This question seeks to increase the PGSS Grants Program fee from $1.26 per semester to $2.07 as of Fall 2014.

The program allows student groups to apply for grants in order to host either social or academic events.

Initially, the Grants Program was partially funded by PGSS, with the Faculty of Graduate and Postdoctoral Studies (GPS) matching contributions. However, last year the GPS withdrew their pledge due to financial issues, according to Larson.

Larson said the Grants Program has received more applications so far this school year than it has ever received before.

“What we’re hoping to do is to be able to get back to somewhat of the level that we were last year with this,” Larson said. “Unfortunately, it’s not going to cover nearly as much as the program needs, so in conjunction with [the fee increase], we’re also looking to revamp how the grants are being allocated.”

There is no “No” campaign against this question.

—Sam Pinto

PGSS Health and Dental Plan

The question seeks to renew the current PGSS Health and Dental Plan fee for three years, from September 2014 to August 2017. The proposed opt-outablefee would be at an annually adjusted rate not exceeding $242.04 for health insurance, and not exceeding $176.74 for dental insurance.

Callan Davey, a project manager for PGSS from the Alliance pour la santé étudiant de Québéc (ASEQ), said the plan is well-used by graduate students.

“It’s a very robust and well-used service, and currently we have over 7,000 PGSS members involved in the plan,” Davey explained. “Prescription drugs take up the most proportion of healthcare claims, and drives up the cost a lot. We want to make sure the financial side of the plan is balanced with the benefits, and make sure it’s meeting the need of students.”

There is no “No” campaign against this question.

—Cece Zhang

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  1. If you follow the logic that MK is already funded by SSMU (that is a fee

  2. If you follow the logic that MK is already funded by SSMU (that is, it is funded by an undergraduate fee levy) then The Tribune was also already funded by SSMU, and PGSS shouldn’t have funded it. This, of course, is illogical. MK is not a SSMU service for undergraduates, it is open to everyone, including non-students.

    Moreover, it is not governed by undergraduates or the SSMU but by the MK collective, which Mr. Mooney is free to join if he wishes to volunteer his time. The “No” committee to the MK question is shameful. Does Mr. Mooney realize how many of his members depend on MK for their daily free lunch during tight times? As a grad student, I know many colleagues who flocked to MK day after day, and graduate students contributing a small amount each year to help improve MK would be really appreciated and useful. Shame on the PGSS president for running the No committee to fund this amazing service.

    • Jonathan Mooney

      Hi Sunci.

      You claim MK “is not governed by undergraduates or the SSMU”. That is not true.

      While MK has some autonomy within SSMU, it is legally just a service of SSMU and under the authority of the SSMU Board of Directors. To take just one example, if MK wants to have employees, they must be SSMU employees hired through the SSMU hiring policy (Clubs and Services Bylaw 2.3.7). PGSS members have no authority over this process whatsoever. Thus, PGSS members would gain no *legal* right to determine how MK is operated (i.e. rights guaranteed to the members of SSMU under the Quebec Companies Act) by paying this fee, since we do not become SSMU members if the fee is passed.

      “Does Mr. Mooney realize how many of his members depend on MK for their daily free lunch during tight times? As a grad student, I know many colleagues who flocked to MK day after day”

      When I asked MK representatives if they had done any research or had evidence suggesting that a need existed among postgraduate students for this kind of service, the answer was no.

      “Shame on the PGSS president for running the No committee to fund this amazing service.”

      Yes, shame on everyone who publicly expresses an opinion you disagree with. Whether to pay the fee or not is a matter worthy of discussion and the criticisms raised about paying this fee are legitimate contribution to the discourse. Your attempt to invoke shame to try to discourage participation in debate by those you disagree with is deplorable.

    • Hugh Crane

      I believe the analogy with the Tribune is fundamentally flawed. The Tribune has operated as an independent organization since around 2009, I believe. Prior to this, when it was under the aegis of SSMU, you would be correct in your analogy. And in fact, at that time the PGSS did not pay a fee to the Trib. MK on the other hand does operate within the framework of SSMU, which is a fundamental difference in determining the legitimacy of this fee proposal.

  3. Pingback: SSMU and PGSS Winter referendum endorsements | McGill Tribune

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