News | PGSS Council talks transparency

Councillors send Legal Information Clinic question to referendum

On Wednesday January 18, the Post-Graduates Students Society (PGSS) Council met for its monthly meeting.

Councilors heard an announcement regarding the Anthropology Graduate Student Association (AGSA)’s resolution to support the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) movement, concerns regarding transparency, a motion to bring a question regarding a fee increase for the Legal Information Clinic at McGill (LICM) to referendum, and a motion regarding a fee waiver which was tabled.

Transparency issues

Alex Magdzinski, president of the Nursing Graduate Student Association (NGSA), questioned the fees charged for room bookings in the Thompson House, and the lack of transparency surrounding said fees.

According to Magdzinski, it is not clear how fees for room bookings in the Thompson House are calculated. Magdzinski looked into previous documents of contracts to calculate the cost of room bookings in previous years, and alleged that the NGSA is being overcharged for certain room bookings.

“I know there was one thing taken out in the budget last year,” Magdzinski explained. “[When] we used to book rooms in the Thompson House, if you bought drinks or food or what not, your booking fee was reduced.”

“Maybe it’s $100 more, $60 more for an event, but for PGSAs [Post-Graduate Student Associations] that don’t have a huge budget, it’s money that we’re taking away from […] student initiatives,” he elaborated. “Generally just […] the quality of our services that we provide is impacted, and I’m just trying to see bigger term how much the PGSS is actually spending to keep Thompson House in the black.”

PGSS Internal Affairs Officer Mina Anadolu offered some context regarding the increased fees for room bookings. She noted that when groups book certain rooms, they pay for staffing the space and the cleanup.

“Maybe it’s $100 more, $60 more for an event, but for PGSAs [Post-Graduate Student Associations] that don’t have a huge budget, it’s money that we’re taking away from […] student initiatives.”

But Anadolu added that she “understand[s] the argument that it’s kind of counterproductive to charge PGSAs or ourselves room booking fees.”

She suggested that Magdzinski contact the Board of Directors regarding this issue, as the Board made decisions regarding fees last year based on the results of a survey on Thompson House sent to PGSS members. This included the removal of the cost recovery program, where if groups bought drinks and foods, the room booking fee was reduced.

“All of those executive decisions were made by the Board and based on the survey, so they may be able to give you more clear rationale as to why those changes occurred and about the minimum charges that we need to upkeep the place,” she said.

PGSS Health Commissioner Andrew Dixon brought up the issue of transparency: “I think what’s really required here is that we sit down with the business [Thompson House] and we just hash out the details of how much it’s going to cost and why. Once we have that list we can start to negotiate whether it’s an appropriate fee.”

“All of those executive decisions were made by the Board and based on the survey, so they may be able to give you more clear rationale as to why those changes occurred and about the minimum charges that we need to upkeep the place.”

LICM referendum question

Councilors also voted on a motion regarding sending a question to referendum that dealt with the Legal Information Clinic at McGill.

The referendum question asks to increase the non-opt-outable fee for the LICM from $2.00 to $4.50 per student per semester, excluding summer terms, starting in Fall 2017.

Sunny Yang, Director of Communications at LICM, and Sean Pierce, LICM’s Director of Student Advocacy and University Affairs, spoke to Council about the motion.

The LICM, Yang explained, “started in 1973 and since then we’ve always been here for students; it’s always been a student-run service that offers free and bilingual legal information as well as advice.” More specifically, the LICM serves both McGill students and members of the community.

Mathew, a student in the Neuroscience Graduate program noted, “There’s 40,000 students at McGill, you guys get fees from undergraduate and graduate students. […] That means about 40,000 people are giving you $180,000 in fees. Could you explain where that money’s going and why you think you need that much?”

Yang explained that the LICM incurs costs from renting offices in the Students’ Society of McGill University (SSMU) building, and pays directors to work at the LICM in the summer.

“We have more volunteers that want to volunteer at the Legal Information Clinic than we have the space for, and that means […] we have resources at our disposal that could help us reduce wait times that we’re not able to leverage,” Pierce added.

“Could you explain where that money’s going and why you think you need that much?”

These wait times are substantial. “We try to provide about a one week turnaround time between then they call in and when they receive their answer,” Yang explained. “The problem is questions grow stale. So at some point, if we have too many questions and not enough students ready to answer those questions, we have to do what’s called ‘closing the lines’.”

“We tell students that at this point, by the time we get to their question, resolve their issue, it might actually be too late for them. […] That’s not ideal,” he added.

The increased fee would allow the LICM to rent more office space, and thus have more volunteers and reduce their wait time, they argued.
The motion was passed, with two opposed.

“We tell students that at this point, by the time we get to their question, resolve their issue, it might actually be too late for them. […] That’s not ideal.”

Councilors also heard a motion regarding the Legal Information Clinic at McGill’s request to waive the $200 fee applied to all external groups who want to conduct their referendum through PGSS. This motion was tabled, however, because it had not yet gone to a second reading, as required by PGSS bylaws.


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