McGill Athletics and Recreation is asking for an ancillary fee increase for the first time in three years, after posting a $413,116 deficit for the 2013-2014 academic year.
In response, the Post-Graduate Students’ Society (PGSS) released a memo on January 23 criticizing the use of the fee for varsity programs.
According to PGSS, the 2013-2014 budget for McGill Athletics and Recreation saw an increase of $708,116 – 10.9 per cent – to their overall budget.
In an email to The Daily, Drew Love, the executive director of Athletics and Recreation, said that this budget increase encompassed several components, including university salary policy, facility improvements, and increased maintenance.
According to Love, approximately 35 per cent of the total budget – $3.8 million – is paid out in salaries and benefits to staff. An additional $3 million of the budget covers “facility operating expenses.”
Love also noted that the University had more than doubled the overhead charges for the athletics unit from 1.5 per cent to 3.5 per cent.
To cover such costs, McGill’s athletics unit relies not only on student ancillary fees but also on other sources of revenue such as facility rentals and sponsorship.
However, PGSS pointed out in the memo that McGill’s yearly sponsorship revenue of $115,250 was low compared to that of other major universities. In comparison, they reported that the University of British Columbia received over $500,000 in sponsorship revenues.
PGSS was especially concerned with the heavy burden placed on students to make up for the deficit, and suggested that McGill Athletics and Recreation “reduce the subsidy for varsity athletics and diversify their revenue sources, and instead subsidize services more widely used by students.”
Love said that the athletics unit was aware of the need for additional sources of revenue, and was looking into alternate sources. “To supplement this external revenue we proposed in next year’s budget that we add a fundraiser position [with a $50,000 salary] to work with alumni and other groups to raise additional funds for our programs.”
It is in this financial context that McGill Athletics and Recreation is asking undergraduate students in the SSMU Winter 2013 Referendum period to approve a $7.25 per term fee increase, or about 6 per cent of the current $120.50 fee for full-time undergraduates. This is the first request for a fee increase since a $1.50 hike in 2009.
PGSS, however, has a different referendum fee increase question from SSMU. Academic Affairs Officer Adam Bouchard told The Daily that PGSS has been working closely with the McGill Athletics and Recreation Advisory Board and hopes to review the question in April.
In the memo, PGSS criticized the request for an increase, stating, “McGill students pay higher athletics fees, on average, than students at any other major university in Canada. Typically students pay roughly $60-$70 per term.”
Love disagreed with this. “I’m looking at [PGSS’s] calculations, and [I’m] not in support of all of their math,” he said at a SSMU Legislative Council meeting on January 24.
Love specified in an email to The Daily that comparing athletics fees across universities depended on a variety of costs including maintenance and upkeep of facilities, staff, programming, and others.
According to Love, the University of Toronto athletics fee encompasses similar costs to McGill, and is $150.01 per term for most full-time students.
PGSS also asked in their memo whether the increase would be justified, stating, “the fees that are collected would disproportionately benefit a very small fraction of the McGill student population.”
After an independent analysis of the athletics budget, PGSS determined that the costs of programs such as the fitness centre, intramural sports, and recreational activities, are not subsidized by the ancillary fees.
Instead, these programs run on an operational surplus from user fees which are additional to the mandatory per-semester contribution. PGSS noted that around 34.1 per cent of the ancillary fee subsidizes the direct costs of varsity athletics, including salaries of coaches, administration, and teams themselves.
According to the memo, there are a total of 578 varsity athletes. The memo also noted that the vast majority of funding is directed toward 238 varsity athletes on Level 1 teams such as football and men’s hockey.
In SSMU Legislative Council on January 24, Councillor Zachary Rosentzveig raised concern over this subsidization, especially because “[ancillary] fees are non-opt-outable.”
Love defended the subsidization of varsity programs, pointing out their “remarkable impact…on the university, the greater community, and our alumni.”