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Capital campaign solicits student donations

McGill’s Development and Alumni Relations (DAR) is asking current students to help fund Campaign McGill as it tries to climb from the $380-million already collected to reach its campaign goal of $750-million.

McGill solicited the Law Students Association (LSA) last semester for an $80,000 contribution to the University’s ongoing capital campaign. LSA executives consulted with the Dean of Law and Development Officers, and then asked its members at an Annual General Meeting two weeks ago to contribute to the campaign, with the money to fund an annual bursary for law students.

The proposal was shelved until a September meeting, due to opposition from students over what they perceived as an inappropriate use of the LSA’s surplus, according to students present at the meeting.

“It’s really problematic. I don’t think the LSA should be donating that kind of money to the campaign,” said Alexandra Dodger, a Law I student and Daily contributor.

LSA VP Finance Jack Fattal said that Development Officer Andrés Drew, a former President of the LSA, approached the LSA to see if it would be interested in making a financial contribution to the campaign out of its $150,000 surplus.

“It was their proposal. We thought it was one of many good ideas,” Fattal said.

Connie Todd, Associate Director of Campaign McGill, denied that the campaign actively sought donations – and instead claimed it coordinated outreach campaigns to poll students on their ideas about how to use possible donations.

“We haven’t been asking for anything. We have been asking – ‘If you were to make a contribution to the campaign, what things would you like to support?’” she said.

Todd said she was unaware that Development Officers were actively soliciting or providing ideas for donations – actions undertaken during discussions between McGill and the LSA about the donation of the latter’s surplus.

When asked whether he solicited a donation from the LSA, Drew refused to comment.

Dodger, a former executive at the University of Toronto Students’ Union, said that the U of T had sought contributions from students’ societies during its capital campaign.

“They always do this at other universities. They’re constantly approaching smaller associations,” she said. “I’m sure [McGill is] doing this because it’s worked at other places.”

Sitting on a gold mine

At the LSA General Meeting, students reportedly accused the LSA executives of failing to adequately fund its clubs this year, and others complained that the association hadn’t consulted students on how to spend the money.

“To find out that all this money exists shows this kind of disconnect between what students want and what student unions do,” said Eric Van Eyken, a Law student and former VP Finance & Operations for SSMU.

Fattal explained that the LSA has been accumulating a surplus of $150,000 over a number of years, and had been looking for ways to spend the money. While several proposals were considered, LSA favoured giving to Campaign McGill because the Dean was willing to match the LSA’s contribution, thereby creating a fund that can distribute an annual $4,000 bursary.

“We looked at which [projects] are likely to be met by the Dean,” Fattal said.

Dodger and van Eyken argued that the money should be used internally to benefit more students, rather than to fund just one student bursary through Campaign McGill.

“It’s not the responsibility of our collective to fund. The LSA wanted to finance what should be the government’s responsibility, or at least the school’s,” Dodger said.

Should students pay?

Todd explained that although such donations were not yet being solicited, plans were in the works to launch a “Campus Community Campaign” that would seek donations from faculty, staff, and students.

She would not elaborate on when this stage of the campaign would begin.

Any donations to the school while the Campus Community Campaign is in action would count toward Campaign McGill. This includes the Class Action Gift, an annual donation solicited from students through Student Organization for Alumni Relations (SOAR).

Temi Akiniana, Alumni Services associate for Student Programs and the overseer of the Class Action program, explained that SOAR uses poll results from the students to decide what project to fund. Since its creation in 1989, students have never opted to donate a gift to Scholarships and Financial Aid.

“Whether students may say it, there’s a bit of caution about the administration of scholarships and student aid,” she said, adding that it is much harder to specifically direct funds to scholarships and student aid, which is why many students are wary of the scheme.

However, Adrian Angus, SSMU VP University Affairs, said he was in support of the LSA’s proposal to donate to Campaign McGill.

“I think it would have been a wonderful initiative,” Angus said.

But Dodger objected to students making financial contributions to Campaign McGill, arguing that it was unfair to ask students to compensate for inadequate government aid programs.

“I don’t think it’s the role of students to be funding financial aid for their peers,” Dodger said. “It’s absurd to me that the capital campaign would be funding financial aid in general.”