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Grads prepare for upcoming referendum period

Questions about Midnight Kitchen, increased application fee approved

With their referendum period coming up, the Post-Graduate Students’ Society (PGSS) met on February 12 to discuss referendum questions and debate problems with funding for post-graduate students’ associations (PGSA).

Council approves Midnight Kitchen referendum question

McGill Graduate Association of Political Studies Students representative Lorenzo Daieff presented a motion at Council to include a question in PGSS’s upcoming referendum regarding a fee levy for Midnight Kitchen. The proposed opt-outable fee would be $0.50 per student per semester, a lower fee compared to the undergraduate fee of $3.25.

Secretary-General Jonathan Mooney noted that PGSS already makes yearly transfers to SSMU for the usage of SSMU’s building and services by PGSS members. A representative from Midnight Kitchen responded that Midnight Kitchen does not have access to that money and is funded exclusively by student fees. Some confusion arose over the purpose of this transfer.

The motion passed with around ten votes against, and the question will be in the upcoming referendum period.

New application system for grads

To mitigate the costs of uApply, a new graduate applications system that will be ready for the Summer 2014 term, Council voted to include a question in the upcoming PGSS referendum to increase the current graduate application fee for all new applicants to $120.

uApply costs $5 million to develop and will require $320,000 in maintenance and support over the coming years, according to the motion submitted to Council. Mark Quinsey from uApply pointed to several benefits of the new system, including ease of document submission, electronic reference letters, and more communication with applicants, among other things.

According to Martin Kreiswirth, Dean of Graduate and Postdoctoral Studies and Associate Provost (Graduate Education), McGill did a survey in 2008-09 to find out the reasons why students didn’t come to McGill. One of the reasons was that “it took too long [for students] to get their offer.”

Application fees will also be eliminated for students who ‘fast-track’ to a PhD without completing their Masters degree. However, students who get a PhD separately, or those in the qualifying year of their Masters, will still have to pay a fee.

Funding allocation process too burdensome, associations say

Hanno Erythropel, Chemical Engineering representative, brought up concerns about “stricter rules” surrounding the funding process for PGSAs. Currently, all events must be approved by the PGSS before funding is granted, which has become increasingly burdensome for the associations, according to several different Council members.

Mooney explained that this process has been put in place because PGSS has unlimited liability for any of the actions of the PGSAs, and so they had been legally recommended to pre-approve all expenditures and events. This is due to a memorandum of agreement (MOA) signed with the McGill administration in 2012 and set to expire in 2016.

Ge Sa, Mining and Materials Engineering representative, brought up the possibility of incorporating a student association independently so that it could manage its own fees. Deputy Provost (Student Life and Learning) Ollivier Dyens noted that, while indeed possible, this would impose a heavy administrative burden.

Dyens added that negotiations for a new MOA regarding fee management were underway, but that PGSS and the University had yet to come to an agreement.

Fees reallocated due to changing needs

Council also adopted a new fee structure for PGSS, which did not increase the total amount of fees paid but reallocated the money. The changes were split into three separate motions, with the first addressing the need for a $1.51 increase per student, per semester for the PGSS Regular Membership Fee.

Mooney explained that the increase was due to negotiations between PGSS and McGill over a new lease for Thomson House, which McGill owns. “One of the things that will change between the current lease and the one that we will sign would be that we would be responsible for paying a portion of the utilities cost. [… However] we have the Sustainable Thomson House initiative, and we plan to make upgrades to Thomson House to make it more sustainable and consume less energy.”

The PGSS Grants Program saw an increase of 81 cents, per student per semester while the fee for the Needs Based Bursary Fund decreased to $1.01 to reflect a shift to an endowment fund.

Council also approved a referendum question regarding the renewal of the PGSS Health and Dental Plan and a referendum question asking for a non-optoutable fee of $3 for the Athletics Building Improvement Fund, which will go to toward a turf improvement project on the McTavish reservoir.

Council additionally endorsed the proposed PGSS member code of conduct and harassment policy, and a proposal from the University and the Library that the McLennan Redpath Terrace be smoke-free.