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PGSS Council approves four questions on fees for March referendum

Fees regarding graduate applications, the restructuring of Rutherford Park, the Midnight Kitchen, and the Health and Dental Plan will be voted on by graduate students during the upcoming Winter Referendum period for the Post-Graduate Students Society of McGill University (PGSS).

The four referendum questions were approved in PGSS Council last Wednesday. Students will be able to vote on them between March 13 and 21.

Midnight Kitchen fee

The first referendum question approved by Council regards the introduction of an opt-outable $0.50 Midnight Kitchen fee for PGSS members.

The Midnight Kitchen is a non-profit organization that provides by-donation lunches to students during the week. It is currently listed as a Students’ Society of McGill University (SSMU) student service and runs off donations and fees from SSMU members only.

“Undergraduates pay a fee every semester—which is currently $3.25—which goes to support this service,” Lorenzo Daieff, political science councillor and the mover of the motion, said. “Graduates do occasionally enjoy the service, but we don’t contribute in any way.”

However, PGSS Secretary-General Jonathan Mooney said graduate students do contribute financially to the service. He argued that the current Memorandum of Agreement (MoA) between PGSS and SSMU provides PGSS members access to the SSMU Building and its services for $4,152 per year.

“I’m reluctant to go forward with this given we’re already paying SSMU for access to its services and it’s not clear that there’s a pressing need amongst graduate students,” Mooney said.

According to Urooj Nizami, Finance & Administrative Coordinator at the Midnight Kitchen, the fees stipulated in the MoA do not actually go towards Midnight Kitchen.

“It seems to me there is confusion as to the fees everyone pays towards SSMU, and that is an important question that should be looked into,” she said. “But that seems to be a separate question to this referendum question.”

The motion ultimately passed.

Changes to graduate applications

(Hayley Lim / McGill Tribune)
(Hayley Lim / McGill Tribune)

McGill’s graduate applications process faces reforms, including updates to the uApply system and a potential application fee increase.

Graduate students will vote on an increased graduate application fee during referendum period. The proposed increase, which will raise the application fee from $102.60 to $120.00, would be implemented gradually over the course of five years beginning June 2014.

“The increase in the application fee payable by all new applicants to graduate studies is necessary to allow the University to properly maintain and support the system,” the motion reads.

The graduate uApply application procedure will also undergo technical changes for the Fall 2014 application period. Updates for the system include increased avenues for communication with the applicants such as a built-in chat system, more updates to guide applicants through the process, electronic document submission, and a general streamlining of the process.

“We revamped the entire system, not only for the graduate applicants, but also for the back office who are doing admissions,” Mark Quinsey, a member of the project management team, told Council. “We weren’t being very competitive at McGill with some of our peers. Not only do we want to help the applicants with a better experience, but it also allows us to actually get better students.”

According to Martin Kreiswirth, Associate Provost (Graduate Education), a survey of applicants who declined McGill’s offer in 2008-2009 showed that one of the main reasons was the long enrollment process, during which many applicants accepted other offers.

Kreiswirth said the new system would also provide economic benefits to applicants who now only have to fill out one form.

“One financial advantage is applicants now don’t have to pay two application fees to apply to two separate programs,” he said.

Restructuring Rutherford Park

A non-opt-outable fee of $3 per semester for the Athletics Building Improvement Fund was the subject of another referendum question that passed in Council.

The fee would affect every full- and part-time PGSS member from Fall 2014 to the Winter 2019 semester, going towards the development of Rutherford Park, currently an undesignated grassy area north of campus.

“For the past two and a half years, McGill Athletics has been working with Ville Marie and Montreal, negotiating about what they can do to restructure that space [in the park],” PGSS Academic Affairs Officer Adam Bouchard said. “What they’ve proposed is an artificial turf, with a soccer and softball setup.”

In the event that the project on the Rutherford Park does not go through due to citizen concerns about the lighting on the mountain, the fund would go towards improving buildings on the recreation side of McGill Athletics, as a greater proportion of PGSS members utilize those services compared to their participation in varsity sports.

Renewing the Health and Dental Plan

The renewal of the current PGSS Health and Dental Insurance Plan was the final referendum question approved by Council.

If passed in the referendum, the plan will be renewed for a period of three years—a change from previous one-year renewal referendum questions. According to PGSS Member Services Officer Elizabeth Cawley, having a three-year term gives ASEQ (Alliance pour la santé étudiante au Québec) more time to collect claims information and therefore provide a better estimate of the insurance price.

“This gives us more negotiating power in terms of setting a better premium, because we have a better understanding of the claims that are being made in the current year,” she said.

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