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Students tightly split on ancillary fees

While SSMU’s three referendum questions on student fees failed to reach quorum, results indicated that students are willing to pay to improve services through the Administration’s ancillary fees.

Two ancillary fee increases, which were not subject to a quorum requirement, split by razor-thin margins. Students voted 53.5 per cent to 45.6 per cent against increasing the application fees for prospective undergraduates, while voting 51.7 to 47.6 per cent in favour of increasing the Student Services Fee – which will increase funding for student health, the Office for Students with Disabilities, and the Student Aid Office.

Though he had hoped for a different outcome, Deputy Provost (Student Life & Learning) Morton Mendelson was happy with the professionalism SSMU displayed during the referenda.

“[Obviously] I was disappointed that one of the items was defeated,” Mendelson said. “I was really impressed with the seriousness that SSMU Council and the Executive took with implementing the process of this referendum.”

Mendelson said that a general lack of information was problematic with the ancillary fee questions.

“I would have liked to be able to explain some of these fees, and explain what I called ‘trade-offs,’” said Mendelson. “If students had more information then that might be useful.”

Even SSMU President Kay Turner and VP University Affairs Nadya Wilkinson admitted during Thursday’s SSMU Council meeting that they had misunderstood a third ancillary fee increase that was not asked due to an error introduced during the drafting process.

“[The administration] thought the fee was inflationary, but they didn’t give us much information to that effect,” said Wilkinson.

Wilkinson added that it wasn’t until a private meeting with Mendelson that she and Turner finally understood the question, which prompted them to reintroduce the increase to the Information Technology and Administrative Charges at Council. The motion passed in spite of objections by VP External Devin Alfaro and LSA VP External Alexandre Shee that ancillary fees should be voted on by students. Mendelson, however, was happy that SSMU will let cost of living increases to ancillary fees be decided by Council.

“I was particularly pleased with the provision that the Executive and Council could approve cost of living increases,” said Mendelson. “SSMU’s definition of ‘cost of living’ was surprisingly refreshing.”

Council members also grilled Elections McGill Chief Electoral Officer Nicole Gileadi over the low turnout, wondering why there were fewer advertisements to commuting students, posters, and polling stations than in previous referendum periods.

Mendelson said there would be more requests for fee increases in the Winter semester – though he would not disclose which fees would be brought to referendum.

“In the winter we’re going to back to students regarding the fees for next term,” he said.

However, the SSMU constitution states that fee increases can only be voted on in the Fall semester unless Council gives two-thirds approval.

The results for fee renewals for the McGill Undergraduate Students’ Fund – which finances bursaries and libraries, the Athletics and Recreation Facilities Improvement Fund, and a fee increase for the Quebec Public Interest Research Group-McGill, were sealed after the questions failed to reach quorum. The questions may be readdressed in the Winter semester, but no earlier.

with files from Erin Hale