News  Mendelson comments on #6party

Senate discusses student referenda, opt-out systems

In his first public appearance since students occupied his office last week on the pretence of hosting a “surprise resignation party”, Deputy Provost (Student Life and Learning), Morton Mendelson addressed the administration’s decision to invalidate CKUT and QPIRG’s referenda questions in SSMU’s fall 2011 referendum period.

The students occupying Mendelson’s office had two initial demands: his resignation, and the University’s recognition of the referenda results for CKUT and QPIRG. Both referenda questions passed with a majority last November.

In Senate on Wednesday, Mendelson responded to questions posed by Arts Senator Jason Leung regarding the recognition of CKUT and QPIRG’s referenda.

“I would just like to inform Senate that I have not resigned,” he stated, before responding to Leung’s questions. “The CKUT question has been acknowledged…and the QPIRG referendum no longer stands,” he added.

Leung asked what steps the administration would take in order to reflect the student sentiment demonstrated by the majority vote in favour of the continued existence of CKUT and QPIRG, and how the administration will guarantee the respect of the democratic decisions made by students now and in the future.

Mendelson responded that, “The University cannot commit itself to accepting student referenda without question.” He said McGill would question referendum results in instances where a question brought to referendum could not be implemented by the University, or was misleading or confusing.

Senator and Associate Professor of Art History and Communications Darin Barney addressed concerns expressed by Mendelson about the ambiguity and lack of clarity to the referenda questions posed by CKUT and QPIRG.

“We should talk about the real reasons we are looking to maintain the online opt-out system,” Barney said. Mendelson stated that the opt-out system self-administered by CKUT and QPIRG prior to the University’s implementation of the online system in the summer of 2007 is not a system McGill can implement.

In an interview with The Daily after the meeting, Mendelson stated that the in-person opt-out system meant that “the University can’t exercise its fiduciary responsibility with respect to the collection of fees.”

“It’s not [the organization’s] money if the referendum says the fee is opt-outable… What’s their fee is the fee for all the students who stay in, not the students who opt out,” continued Mendelson. “[As a result], we don’t have fiduciary responsibility. The group can’t prove to us, or we have no way of knowing, did all the people who want to opt out get to opt out?”

He stated in the interview that the Memoranda of Agreement (MoA) between the University, and CKUT and QPIRG state “very clearly that the [student] fees are collected according to the University’s regulations.” “And University regulations about opt-outs is that the opt-outs are online,” he continued.

Kira Page, a member of QPIRG’s Board of Directors, spoke to The Daily regarding the method of student fee collections elaborated in QPIRG’s MoA with McGill. “The agreement that we have – as do the SSMU and all the [independent student groups] – is that students pay all their fees at the same time, and then those are distributed by the University,” she said.

Mendelson noted the problem of confidentiality concerning students’ personal information. He said in an interview after the Senate meeting that the in-person opt-out system required the University to give the organization the names of students. “In effect, we’ re giving the personal information of students to a third party, so that’s a matter of privacy,” he explained.

Page, however, told The Daily that regardless of the opt-out system, QPIRG still receives a list of all students who are fee-paying members of the organization and students who have opted out. “For us to run our Annual General Meeting, we need a list of our student members,” Page explained. “At the end of the opt-out period we get a list of everybody who is still a member, and those who are no longer members.”

In Senate, SSMU President Maggie Knight spoke to her view regarding students ’ concerns. “Students were never asked about the change to the opt-out system…I think that’s the ultimate concern – who has control over that change,” she said.

Mendelson maintained that consultation did occur prior to the 2007 implementation of the online opt-out system. Page told The Daily that QPIRG was not given any warning before the online opt-out system was implemented in 2007.

In Senate, Knight clarified that, though she recognizes different methods, standardss and results of consultation, “If our standard of consultation is student referenda, then that [was] not completed,” she said