In January, the Education Students’ Society (ESS) asked its membership to consider whether its interests were best served by membership in the AMS or the SGPS. At a special referendum, education students chose the SGPS by a respectable margin.
A major component in this decision was the difference in student fees proposed by the SGPS when compared to the AMS. In order to attract the education students, the SGPS promised a 50 per cent reduction in each and every mandatory student fee to be paid by ESS members. The article in the Mar. 13 edition of the Journal shows that the SGPS is now facing the difficult consequence of either of reneging on its promise or increasing fees for other faculties in order to subsidize education students. In its haste to win votes, the SGPS leadership has demonstrated alarming negligence on this issue and its members will now have to pay the price.
As part of their campaigns, both the AMS and SGPS promised fee reductions. First the AMS, after consultation with all relevant external bodies, presented a plan to lower Bus-It, Athletics and Queen’s Centre fees for ESS members. To counter this, the SGPS promised a 50 per cent reduction in every single mandatory student fee education students would pay as SGPS members, thus cutting the normal SGPS fee of $311.72 to a mere $155.86. Unfortunately, the SGPS is only now realizing that it simply did not have the authority to promise these cuts to external fees. In fact, the SGPS leadership does not seem to have grasped the magnitude of the financial burden it has placed on its own members through these fee promises.
The total reductions would cost $150 per education student or about $105,000 in total. As SGPS President Jeff Welsh correctly pointed out in the Journal, the SGPS can easily change its internal fees but must negotiate all changes to external fees. However, as 14 of the 16 SGPS mandatory fees are for payment obligations to external bodies, such as the University or the AMS, a lot of negotiating must now take place. As the chair of the AMS Board of Directors I can honestly say that the AMS is already struggling to make up the nearly $50,000 in student fees lost through the departure of the ESS and will be in no position to put a further strain on our finances by reducing SGPS student fee obligations. The SGPS will have to continue to pay the AMS what is owed for the services provided to SGPS members. The services these fees support are already subsidized by undergraduate students through their payment of the AMS Specific Fee which covers much of the overhead costs. Furthermore, SGPS members receive equal service without shouldering any of the financial risks. Given this, any proposal to reduce current fee amounts paid by SGPS members for AMS services should constitute a genuine affront to any fair-minded student.
If the SGPS cannot negotiate all these fee reductions, it will be expected to come up with the money it owes. Mr. Welsh said in the Feb. 11 edition of the Journal: “Having more members—even at half member rate—means we won’t have to raise the general fee next year.” While this may be viable in terms of covering the SGPS’ own operating costs, the $21,000 in extra funds from the ESS falls well short of covering the SGPS’ external obligations. This increase would not even be enough to cover the promised reduction in fees to the Canadian Federation of Students, University Centre, Walkhome, Work Bursary and Oxfam, much less the decrease in the remaining nine fees, including Bus-it and Health, Counselling and Disability Services.
The SGPS is facing a substantial net loss of money. Thankfully, Mr. Welsh seems to have finally realized this money will have to come from somewhere, saying in the Mar. 13 edition of the Journal that the SGPS may need to “increase the overall fees for SGPS members and then [cut] that by half for ESS members.” Contrary to what the SGPS membership was told a month ago, the SGPS leadership is now expecting the rest of its constituents to pick up the tab. In fact, the promised reduction to AMS fees alone would require an increase of $7.50 for every other SGPS member. If I were a graduate or law student at Queen’s, Mr. Welsh’s plan to increase fees for his other constituents would be of great concern.
From the promises made to the ESS students during the January campaign, it appears Mr. Welsh didn’t understand the consequences of his actions and therefore unwittingly misled his constituents. The SGPS leadership has made wild promises to the education students that it simply cannot keep without significantly increasing fees for its other members. While this may have helped in winning the referendum, it is the type of action that breeds cynicism throughout the student body and ultimately serves only to disadvantage the SGPS’ own membership. These actions should serve as a wake-up call to all SGPS member societies—new and old.
Kaitlyn Young is the chair of the AMS Board of Directors