Correction appended November 3, 2012.
In an attempt to diminish the high student fees paid by its members, the Macdonald Campus Graduate Student Society (MCGSS) is currently negotiating a separation from the Macdonald Campus Students’ Society (MCSS), from which it currently receives a large portion of its funding.
At present, MCGSS is a part of both MCSS and the Post Graduate Students’ Society (PGSS), the graduate student society for McGill’s downtown campus. MCSS provides MCGSS with Macdonald campus-related services – such as access to the campus bar Ceilidh – while PGSS provides graduate student services downtown, including daycare, grants and bursaries, car services through Communauto, and access to events.
According to MCGSS President Lucy Lu, the movement to separate from MCSS began last year when former MCGSS president Alyssa MacLeod found that MCGSS members were paying higher student fees than most other McGill students because of its dues to both MCSS and PGSS.
“Different solutions were considered, including working with MCSS and PGSS to lower the fees that we pay to either,” wrote Lu in an email to The Daily. “In the end, we decided that separating from MCSS would give the most benefit to MCGSS.”
The proposed separation from MCSS is thus “more of a reorganization to make student society relations and fees more efficient,” she wrote.
Lu explained that with the separation, MCGSS would receive guaranteed annual funding from PGSS in an increase of approximately $5,000, or about 50 per cent more in funding. Breaking away from MCSS would also decrease members’ student fees by $50, which would have gone to MCSS. PGSS would also pay MCSS a certain amount to allow MCGSS to continue receiving the same Macdonald campus services.
According to Lu, the details are currently under review by both parties.
“With the additional funds, we can offer more benefits to our members, such as more travel grants and in larger monetary amounts, as well as improvements to graduate student life through renovations of our student lounge and more MCGSS-sponsored events,” wrote Lu.
MCGSS will hold a referendum regarding separation from MCSS from November 5 to 9. They will also be holding a discussion session on the issue tomorrow, November 2, from 2 to 3 p.m. in the Macdonald campus faculty lounge.
According to PGSS Secretary-General Jonathan Mooney, a survey of Mac campus graduate students – which had a 27 per cent response rate – showed that 94 per cent of respondents wished to split from MCSS.
When asked about student reactions, Lu cited strong concerns that the proposed changes were not happening quickly enough – particularly in light of the recent PGSS student fee increase.
Mooney explained that PGSS received a letter from MCGSS on May 24 requesting to pay the full PGSS fee and terminate its membership to MCSS, which PGSS forwarded to the Deputy Provost. As a result, PGSS increased its fees for Macdonald campus graduate students to the full amount and requested that the Deputy Provost’s office terminate all MCSS fees.
“…This is where things get a bit unclear,” wrote Mooney. “At some point the University requested an acknowledgment of the split in the form of a letter from the MCSS. Due to problems of internal communication within the MCSS and concerns about the contract for services, the MCSS refused to sign this letter acknowledging the split, and the Deputy Provost’s office refused to terminate the fee collected by MCSS on graduate students.”
As a result, MCGSS students faced a fee increase rather than the planned decrease – a “ridiculous amount in student fees” that amounts to approximately $120 and is more than double other student society fees, according to Lu.
“We expected to finalize the changes before the start of this semester so that the implementation of the new PGSS fee structure (which resulted in an increase in PGSS fees) would have been offset by the removal of MCSS fees,” she wrote.
Mooney said that PGSS and MCSS met again in July and came to an agreement that MCSS would ask the University to cancel the Fall 2012 fees in return for a payment from PGSS.
“However, many people in the McGill administration were on vacation at this time, so it proved impossible to cancel the fee,” wrote Mooney.
MCSS sent another request to cancel or refund the fee on August 17. The University responded on August 23 saying that “they could not cancel the fee because they had been told that the request was not made in accordance with MCSS regulations governing fee changes,” Mooney wrote.
He added that PGSS found this “very strange and frustrating,” but that negotiations have gone well since then and progress has been made toward an agreement.
According to MCSS President Kerry Blake-Savery, MCSS and PGSS are currently in negotiations regarding the continuation of MCSS-provided services to MCGSS students through a fee paid by PGSS to MCSS.
“These include use of space, access to clubs, help planning events/selling tickets for events, accounting, and other administrative,” wrote Blake-Savery.
Mooney wrote that these negotiations have “proceeded nearly to completion,” and a letter of intent was signed by MCSS to enter in the agreement and present a final version in their next quorate council meeting.
Both PGSS and MCSS have also signed an agreement to recognize the results of the referendum “if more than 10 per cent of students vote and more students vote ‘Yes’ to leave than ‘No’ by sending a letter to the Deputy Provost’s office telling them to stop collecting fees and renouncing any claim that graduate students are members,” Mooney wrote.
“I think it was very responsible of MCSS President Kerry Blake-Savery and VP Finance Nicolas Chatel-Launay to sign this agreement, as it recognized the principle of freedom of association for graduate students within the MCSS,” Mooney added.
Lu said she is currently working with PGSS and MCSS to reach a formal agreement on the issue by November 20, the deadline to make changes to student fees for Winter 2013.