Quebec universities underfunded, says graduate student motion

Motion alleged to be “administration-sponsored”

Correction appended February 15, 2013.

In a tense council meeting on Wednesday night, McGill’s Post-Graduate Students’ Society (PGSS), a member of the Fédération étudiante universitaire du Québec (FEUQ), voted to adopt a motion saying that there is evidence of massive underfunding in Quebec universities.

Their stance is in line with the argument put forth by the Conférence des Recteurs et des Principaux des Universités du Québec (CREPUQ) – the association representing university administrations across the province – who have long argued that universities in Quebec are underfunded, and who will lobby for increased funding from the Parti Québécois (PQ) government.

On the other hand, FEUQ, one of the province’s biggest student federations, believes that the greater problem is that university administrations are mismanaging the money they already receive. FEUQ argues that this money amounts to an unregulated blank cheque for administrators.

The motion comes at a crucial time, as the PQ-sponsored summit on higher education is less than two weeks away.

The motion to adopt the policy position of underfunding was put forward by the PGSS executive committee after a vote of four to one. PGSS External Affairs Officer Errol Salamon was the lone dissenting voice among the executive, and spoke alongside FEUQ leadership present at Council to oppose the motion.

The motion’s supporters argued that while CREPUQ is one of the strongest proponents of tuition hikes – against the demands of students who were on strike last spring – it would be self-defeating for PGSS not to lobby for greater university funding.

Salamon argued that the motion essentially represented a deal cut with the administration, and claimed that university administrations across the province have been lobbying student associations to adopt their position.

Jonathan Mooney, Secretary-General of PGSS, objected to the characterization of the motion as being sponsored by the administration.

Salamon’s allegations stem from a meeting between Mooney and Olivier Marcil, McGill VP (External Affairs), in September. They discussed the issue of underfunding, at which time Marcil gave Mooney documents and research laying out McGill’s case.

Mooney and Marcil also met at noon on the day of the council meeting, though Mooney said they did not talk about the upcoming motion.

The motion, Mooney said, was the logical outcome of a report prepared by PGSS staff researcher Conor Farrell, and therefore had nothing to do with the administration. During a heated period of debate, Mooney told councillors that opposition to the motion was “absurd.”

Mooney said that Marcil had not asked him to create any specific policies during their meeting in September. However, following the meeting, Farrell undertook what Mooney described as a study of all the existing research on Quebec university funding, from across the political and ideological spectrum. Farrell’s report concluded that there was indeed evidence of underfunding in Quebec universities.

This assertion differed markedly with the argument offered by Justin Marleau, Vice-President of AGSEM-McGill’s Teaching Union. According to Marleau’s analysis of McGill budgets for a period of five years between 2007 and 2012, McGill’s overall operational revenues have increased 30 per cent since 2007, and 43 per cent of the increase has gone into administrative and non-salary expenses.

Leah Freeman, a McGill Social Work graduate student who is also FEUQ’s vice president of graduate student affairs, spoke against the motion, referencing a recent report from a Quebec professors’ federation saying that Quebec’s universities are funnelling money into construction projects that the government intends to be used for teaching.

“The reality is that no needs analysis has been done for Quebec universities. There has been no analysis of how many teachers we’re missing,” said Cameron Monagle, FEUQ’s coordinator of internal affairs.

In a previous version of this article, The Daily incorrectly referred to Justin Marleau as a researcher from AGSEM-McGill’s Teaching Union. In fact, he is their Vice-President. The Daily regrets the error.