Commentary  Keep student decisions in student hands

Last week, the McGill administration invalidated the results of SSMU’s fall referendum, in which a majority of students voted for the continued existence of CKUT 90.3FM and QPIRG McGill with student fee refunds (opt-outs) to be back under the purview of the organizations. The administration bases this decision on the lack of clarity they perceive in the referendum questions, which discussed both the existence of the two organizations and their opt-out systems. While the clarity of the question remains in dispute, this disagreement distracts from the pressing reality that the administration is undermining student democracy by invalidating the referendum’s results.

If a potential bylaw violation or any other dispute pertaining to the referendum is to be raised, it is the place of students, and students alone, to take up that fight. For student democracy to occur, a case questioning the validity of the referenda questions should be, and has been, brought before SSMU’s Judicial Board. Given the fact that such a governing body endowed with judiciary powers like SSMU’s J-Board exists, the administration has no jurisdiction and no right to make judgements regarding the validity of referenda questions – the judgment is unequivocally the prerogative of J-Board.

Moreover, this is not the first time that the administration has shown disregard for student group’s autonomy. As of September 2007, the administration unilaterally changed the system of opt-outs from one that was self-administered through the student associations who offered students’ full refunds of their fees to one that was online on Minerva,  QPIRG and CKUT were the only organizations at McGill offering an opt-out. The institution of online opt-outs via Minerva was done without consultation or any warning to QPIRG, CKUT, or students. McGill acted in bad faith by not offering previous warning to QPIRG or CKUT.

Students have never democratically supported the online opt-out system, however there is ample evidence that they reject it. A November 2007 General Assembly motion mandated SSMU to “take every reasonable action to reclaim and protect the sovereignty and independence of all campus student groups and activities” and to “take every reasonable action to put an end to the online opt-out system recently created by the University such that campus groups shall be in charge of their own opt-out processes.”

Additionally, a SSMU referendum question in Winter 2008 saw a majority of students vote against the administration’s change to making opt-outs online.  The administration also disregarded this referendum result.

While student challenges to any SSMU referenda via the J-Board is the due process that should be followed, The Daily has serious reservations concerning the case brought before J-Board by two students last week. It does not appear to be a coincidence that the two students petitioning the case, Zach Newburgh and Brendan Steven, both have considerable history with the QPIRG opt-out campaign. The singular focus of the case against QPIRG, without mention of CKUT, also supports the view that this case is about more than due process in SSMU.

We, as a student body, now have no choice. Regardless of what the J-Board rules on the validity of QPIRG’s referenda questions, the administration has already made the decision that QPIRG must run a second existence referendum this winter in order for the administration to sign Memorandum of Agreements with the organizations. The University is exploiting its power over CKUT and QPIRG, power that it should not have in the first place, while striking a deafening blow to students’ autonomy by discounting a student’s vote.

As CKUT and QPIRG prepare their next move and the J-Board case unfurls, The Daily stands in solidarity with the members of CKUT and QPIRG offering them support in this difficult, frustrating time. The students and community members involved in either organization have already worked gruelling hours through the fall referendum period, the administration has now sentenced them to yet another stressful period of campaigning, further draining these organizations finances. The Daily rejects the administration’s actions and encourages students to support these valuable organizations.