On Thursday September 15, the Marianopolis Student Union (MSU), which represents over 2000 students who attend Marianopolis College – the only private anglophone CEGEP in the Montreal area – began a referendum (which will end Monday, September 19) asking students to vote on whether they want to accredit MSU.
Accreditation of the union would grant MSU legal recognition as the unique representative association of the student body at Marianopolis College, giving MSU the status of a not-for-profit corporation in Quebec. For accreditation to be granted, a majority of the student body would have to vote in favour of it.
Both the Student’s Society of McGill University (SSMU) and the Post-Graduate Students’ Society of McGill University (PGSS) went through similar processes in 2003 and 2013, respectively.
“Accreditation of the Marianopolis Student Union means that we’d have the full force of the law behind us, whenever we’re sitting at the negotiating table and whenever we’re trying to get things done,” stated Anthony Koch, President of MSU and second year honours commerce student, in a September press release.
The need for a referendum on the issue grew out of many students’ frustrations with the college’s administration: many felt that there existed an imbalance in power between the administration and the college’s students.
“Accreditation of the Marianopolis Student Union means that we’d have the full force of the law behind us, whenever we’re sitting at the negotiating table and whenever we’re trying to get things done.”
In an interview with The Daily, Koch described MSU in its current state as “structurally deficient.” Since MSU isn’t legally recognized as Marianopolis’ sole student representative association off-campus, the college’s administration has to sign off on everything in order to allow MSU to move forward with any projects.
Speaking to The Daily, MSU’s Coordinator of Communications and second year honours science student, Lucas Szwarcberg, who is mandated to correspond with the government regarding the accreditation process, explained that he felt a slight reluctance from the college’s administration to let MSU have their accreditation referendum.
“When we started moving forward with accreditation, the administration tried to offer some compromises,” Szwarcberg said. “‘Which additional powers would you want?’ [they asked.]”
Szwarcberg went on to explain how the administration’s proposals were not sufficient.
“None of [their propositions] really sufficed to address our issues because there’s only one thing that can give us that power, and it would have to be this legal mandate given to us by the students, in the form of this vote. Even if the school wanted to grant us equivalent powers, they couldn’t, because it’s only the students that can give us that mandate.”
However, while both Koch and Szwarcberg agreed that there might have been some tense moments with the administration initially, student-administration relations have since improved.
“None of [their propositions] really sufficed to address our issues because there’s only one thing that can give us that power, and it would have to be this legal mandate given to us by the students, in the form of this vote.”
“Generally, these things tend to be very hostile, and this time, it was not,” admitted Koch. “I’m going to give credit to Marianopolis’ administration. There were employees in particular that were very hostile though. These individuals, who will remain unnamed, were part of this power imbalance that we sought to rectify through accreditation.”
While Marianopolis’ accreditation referendum was in the works for a long time, it only became a real possibility in the last year, with four to five months of preparation over the summer. Much of this work focused on explaining the concept of student accreditation to the student body.
“Even though people had questions in terms of what [accreditation] was, once they saw all the consequences and implications [of doing so], they seemed to be overwhelmingly in favour,” explained Szwarcberg.
“The majority of Congress [editor’s note: MSU’s executive body] are already elected by the students,” Grace Li, a second year commerce student at Marianopolis who favours accreditation, told The Daily. “They already represent student interests. We had about ten or fifteen candidates [in the last election], so we had a lot of choices, and those were the people that were voted in.”
“Even though people had questions in terms of what [accreditation] was, once they saw all the consequences and implications [of doing so], they seemed to be overwhelmingly in favour.”
“Congress still remains accountable to the students […] and 99 per cent of the students that I’ve spoken to, they’ve all been in favour of the accreditation,” she added.
As of August 2016, no student union accreditation vote in Quebec has failed at the ballot, except for when voter turnout was too low.
Koch, who ran for president of MSU last year on the promise of accreditation, said during his campaign that an accredited student union would assure greater autonomy and independence from the college, as well as an improved cafeteria service, increased autonomy for clubs, and assured students that MSU would be even more accountable to its constituents.
“99 per cent of the students that I’ve spoken to, they’ve all been in favour of the accreditation.”
“Part of the reason we’re trying to get accredited is for accountability purposes,” Koch explained. “because last year, there [were] cases of people who took money, or stuff that was purchased with Congress funds […] and when I came into office, I looked at the financial documents of Congress, and if we were to get audited, it would be a disaster.”
Through accreditation, MSU would be able to hire an accountant to go through their financial information. The financial documents last year were “very nonchalant scrap pieces of paper with scribbles on it,” Koch elaborated.
“[This referendum] is all about the right to self-determination: of students, by the students.,” concluded Koch. “You govern yourselves. Naturally, the college has certain rules and regulations that you operate within, but at the end of the day, you’re the students,” Koch concluded. “You deserve to have [MSU] be accountable to you, and you have the right to push for what you believe to be true, and the only way to legally and properly do that is to get accredited.”