Editorial, Opinion

Winter 2017 SSMU General Assembly Endorsements

Motion Regarding Policy Against Ancillary Fee Increases: “Yes”

Ancillary fees are non-opt-outable fees that are charged to students to fund various student service units, including Student Services, Athletics and Recreation, the World University Services Canada (WUSC) Student Refugee Program, Access McGill, and Athletics Facilities Improvement. Current estimates from the university state that undergraduates students pay between $1,668 and $2,968—depending on what program they are in and what their student status is—in ancillary fees each year.

This motion regarding ancillary fee increases would enable the SSMU to call on the university administration for more transparency and student collaboration in matters of budgeting that affect students’ finances. Currently, the creation or modification of ancillary fees requires approval from students through referendum; once approved, students support essential services directly. That said, the process for creating the ancillary fees and determining why the financial burden must be placed on students is currently opaque. The Tribune therefore endorses this motion as it will establish a new framework for holding the administration to account for how its budget impacts students.

According to the motion, ancillary fees charged by Quebec institutions should not replace what is already accounted for in the university’s operational budget or displace the financial burden for providing essential services onto students. The motion states that the university charges student fee-funded units, such as Student Housing, Athletics and Recreation, and Student Housing and Hospitality Services, for resources that are provided through the operating budget. Such additional “overhead charges” indirectly increase the ancillary fees charged to students while also burdening essential student services.

This motion would ensure that SSMU would not approve referenda questions on new, or changes to existing, ancillary fees until McGill University meets certain criteria regarding its own charges on student service units. The editorial board believes this is an essential step to ensure that the university is transparent and held accountable for budgetary decisions that affect students directly—both in terms of fees and the provision of services that benefit students. In order to achieve this, the motion calls for the university to provide SSMU executives with a yearly budget detailing the distribution of student fees, provide a formula for how overhead charges on these services are calculated, require that the yearly budget of these units be approved by a committee that includes parity student representation, and to immediately cease increasing overhead charges to these units. Such criteria are not only reasonable, but also ensure that the university will meet its obligations with student interests at the forefront. The SSMU must be able to hold the university accountable to the budgeting behind charges on student fee-funded units.

Motion Regarding the Formal Ratification of the UN Sustainable Development Goals: “Yes with reservations”

The United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) were adopted by all 193 Member States of the UN in 2015. This motion for the Winter 2017 General Assembly (GA) contends that the Students’ Society of McGill University (SSMU) should formally ratify the SDGs; however, the language of the motion is vague and misleading. Thus, while the Tribune editorial board supports the sentiment behind this motion, it endorses the motion with reservations as its language does not appropriately represent what SSMU is capable of doing.   

The motion argues that ratifying the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) would bolster SSMU’s symbolic leadership in sustainable development practices. However, as it is currently worded, the motion conflates SSMU and McGill as institutions, making it unclear where the proposed symbolic leadership would come from. While SSMU is bound to GA decisions and may lobby McGill University if called to do so, the SSMU cannot create McGill policy. Moreover, the motion does not currently include any actionable items that would expand on the Society’s existing sustainability policy. The policy already mandates SSMU to demonstrate leadership in sustainability through advocacy and its own practices. The motion should therefore be amended to make clear what it will add to SSMU’s sustainable mandate beyond simple symbolism. The SDGs themselves are considered too broad and vague for UN Member States to adequately work towards.

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