The administration’s new “Overhead Recovery Fee” lacks transparency and accountability and violates students’ right to know where their money is going. The fee gives the University 1.5 per cent of money collected by “revenue neutral units” – semi-independent bodies that the University mandates be self-funded. These include residences, athletics, and student services, which are funded by sources like rent, sporting event ticket sales, gym memberships, and student fees.
It is particularly disturbing that the plan coincides with salary increases for administrators while professors are having their benefits cut. Precise figures are hard to come by, but some administrators make as much as $121,000. Instead of adjusting its own financial practices to make ends meet, the administration appears to have few scruples about filling in its budget gap with students’ money.
For example, students pay their $133 student services fee with the expectation that the money is being used for the purposes advertised – to provide resources like academic and career counseling or mental health support. This new fee means that 1.5 per cent of money students contribute to student services goes to the administration. It may not seem like a lot, but the annual loss of hundreds of thousands of dollars could be devastating for these already cash-strapped units.
The affected units will be forced either to reduce the services they provide or to raise fees; students will face deteriorating facilities and services or be forced to pay more money to maintain the existing ones.
Administrators say the levy is necessary because these bodies make use of University administrative and technical support. However, this service has until now been provided for free and the recent change lacks a clear and transparent justification.
The plan’s opacity, particularly its lack of student involvement and oversight, is especially worrisome and points to a trend of a general exclusion of students from university affairs. For instance, the university Athletics Board, responsible for the distribution of student fees collected by McGill Athletics, has yet to meet this academic year, leaving students in the dark about how their money is being used.
That the administration would profit from student fee increases, since the value of their levy would rise in tandem, points to a possible motivation for the plan: it may be a surreptitious way of collecting more money from students – a backchannel tuition hike.
Even if the administration is adversely affected by the current financial situation, as they claim to be, there needs to be a more transparent explanation of where the levied money is going, and ultimately more student involvement with McGill’s financial affairs.
What’s more, given administrators’ high salaries, it is obvious that there are other sources of revenue that should be investigated. The administration should balance its own budget without dipping into Student Services’.