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QPIRG challenges McGill

Community awareness group says online opt-outs breach legal agreement with University

Quebec Public Interest Research Group (QPIRG) McGill is preparing to take legal action against the University administration to prevent the fate of its funding from being determined by the click of a mouse.

QPIRG officially accused McGill of breaching its agreement with them by introducing an online opt-out policy last September through Minerva. The policy enables students opt out of the portion of their annual fees that supports the community-awareness student group.

Should the administration deny their agreement was breached, QPIRG will pursue legal arbitration through Montreal’s legal system.

Deputy Provost (Student Life and Learning) Morton Mendelson hailed the decision to make opting out of semesterly fees – like QPIRG’s $3-a-term – a simple point-and-click process on Minerva as a more “legitimate” and “convenient” way for students to reduce their tuition. Midnight Kitchen and Queer McGill were among the seven organizations whose fees McGill made optional on Minerva over the summer of 2007.

QPIRG’s Internal Coordinator Leila Pourtavaf criticized the ease with which students can write off opt-outable fees without knowing what servivces they provide.

“Opt-outs should allow students with moral objections to make informed decisions about their funding,” said Pourtavaf. “They shouldn’t be rebates.”

Pourtavaf stressed that QPIRG objects to the process of Minerva opt-outs, but thinks students should be given the option to refuse fees. QPIRG actually introduced the concept of optional fees to McGill 20 years ago – but they did so to remain accountable to students. Until last summer, they handled the process manually with paper forms.

The new system’s emphasis on quicker savings for students has had disproportionate repercussions for the groups involved. QPIRG relies almost entirely on student fees for its funding and saw an $11,000 drop in revenues following the system’s implementation this past year, whereas prior to 2007 opt-out losses totaled roughly $500 a year. QPIRG estimated the new system’s annual cost at about ten per cent of their former funding.

QPIRG McGill – a student-run organization that forges the primary link between McGill and the greater Quebec community – uses funds it collects from students’ tuition to promote student activism and sponsor various working groups such as Greening McGill and the McGill Global AIDS Coalition.

Pourtavaf saw the administration’s action to overtake QPIRG’s control of its incoming funds as part of a wider campus trend.

“The administration sees student groups as a liability,” said Pourtavaf, “when in fact they’re the life of the campus. This situation is part of a series of events that have led to the Reclaim Your Campus movement, which is indicative of the general atmosphere of students being fed up.”

Dean of Students Professor Jane Everett will mediate the conflict between QPIRG and McGill by collecting the facts and then bringing the accusation and relevant data to the administration’s attention.

“My only role in this situation is as an intermediary between the student groups and the organization,” she said.

Last year, QPIRG unsuccessfully attempted to regain control of opt-outs through referendum. Though students voted overwhelmingly in favour of QPIRG’s autonomy, the administration’s policy on online opt-outs remained unchanged.