Correction appended October 10, 2012.
The Philosophy Students’ Association (PSA) recently announced its intention to become an accredited student association to represent philosophy students at McGill, a move that would make PSA independent from its parent association, the Arts Undergraduate Society (AUS).
Early in the semester, AUS’ auditors advised the Association to provide the University with full audits of its finances as per their Memorandum of Agreement (MoA). Following this recommendation, AUS sought to change its financial structure by re-internalizing faculty associations with external bank accounts.
Four of the biggest associations – the Economics Students’ Association (ESA), the Department of English Student Association (DESA), the PSA, and the Political Science Students’ Association (PSSA) – raised concerns about the effects of internalization on their autonomy.
Following discussions about internalizing, the PSA instead contemplated completely externalizing, or becoming a separately accredited association.
According to PSA President Jonathan Wald, the Association is looking to incorporate – to change its financial structure and form its own bank account – this semester, and to accreditate – become the official representative for philosophy students – next semester.
In order to accreditate, a student association must first incorporate under Part II of the Quebec Companies Act (chapter 28), which means that the provincial government must approve the formation of a new bank account.
“At that point I hope to see our relation as analogous to that of the AUS and SSMU. Philosophy students will still be members of the Faculty of Arts; we will just have a stronger, more autonomous sub-representative group,” explained Wald.
The Accreditation Act also requires the PSA to obtain a majority of votes cast in a ballot poll, provided that this majority comprises at least 25 per cent of students registered in the program.
Being an independent accredited student association also means that in addition to having an independent bank account, PSA would be able to determine its own student fees.
“We would set in our voting process a student fee to be collected by McGill and then distributed to the PSA,” said Wald. “It’s the same law that applies to SSMU and AUS. So we would choose some fee, and when we were doing the calculations even if we chose a very low fee we would still be getting more money than what we’re getting right now from the AUS.”
According to an email from Deputy Provost (Student Life and Learning) Morton Mendelson to the AUS, allowing the departmental associations to incorporate is neither an option nor a solution to the problem that the AUS has in respect of its obligation to provide financial accountability in the form of annual audited financial statements under the MoA.
AUS VP Finance Saad Qazi told The Daily that he “doesn’t completely agree” with Mendelson’s letter, but that it would also depend on what fee payment structure the PSA decides to follow.
He also mentioned that the four student associations in question agreed to use QuickBooks, the AUS’ financial software, which will allow associations to retain their autonomous bank accounts while the AUS keeps track of their finances.
PSSA President Talitha Calder explained that although the PSSA considered separating at one point, it has ruled out the option now that internalizing bank accounts is not happening.
“We are now going to use the AUS’ online accounting system… this will allow us to keep better track records of our expenses throughout the year without having to give up our bank account,” said Calder.
According to Qazi, DESA and ESA also do not intend to secede from the AUS, although the ESA is looking to increase its revenues by receiving fees from both the AUS and the Management Undergraduate Society.
AUS has been in talks with SNAX, the food and beverage counter run out of the Leacock building lobby, about SNAX being responsible for the $3,783 yearly rent the University charges AUS for the space.
SNAX manager Marlene Benavides says that the snack bar is making a concerted effort to meet new ethical and environmental goals – eliminating water bottles, composting, providing more fair trade items – and that the nearly $4,000 loss could make achieving these goals much more difficult.
“This also defines the relationship between AUS and SNAX in a way that I wouldn’t have […] $4,000 is a lot less to the AUS than it is to SNAX,” Benavides added.
Qazi, however, said that the snack bar made a $30,000 profit before taxes last year and that it “can definitely afford to pay rent.”
— with files from Lola Duffort
An earlier version of this article stated that AUS has always covered the rent payed to the University for the space occupied by SNAX.