LWT’s final Assembly drags on in debate over Student Activity Fee Policy

Debate on single motion lasts nearly three hours, extensive amendments lead to passing vote

AMS President Tyler Lively and VP (Operations) Dave Walker at the front of Wednesday's Assembly meeting.
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In the last Assembly for this year’s AMS executives, Tyler Lively, president, and Dave Walker, vice-president (Operations), faced accusations of being “out of touch” with students, after proposing a motion regarding changes to the Student Activity Fee Policy.

Wednesday’s meeting, the last of 2016-17 AMS Assembly gatherings, mainly comprised of a nearly three-hour long discussion — requiring several votes to extend the grueling conversation — on a single motion.

The motion proposed that Assembly approve a revised Student Activity Fee Policy, presented by Lively and Walker. Changes in the policy included rendering clubs engaged in “partisan political activity“ or whose primary purpose is lobbying ineligible for student fees, and requiring clubs to pass a two-thirds majority in referendum in order to ratify their student fee.

Introducing the proposed policy change, Lively said the goal was to hold clubs accountable for how they utilize their levied student fees, and to reduce the current slate of student fees by eliminating clubs who use theirs irresponsibly.

As it stands, the AMS currently levies 114 student fees, while most other Canadian universities fund their groups solely through grants. According to Walker, $35,000 in fees were never collected by clubs this year, and were reallocated to the AMS Membership Bursary Fund, as dictated by AMS policy.

“I’m not necessarily okay with [uncollected fees] being in excess of what we budgeted for, because then students are paying for something they didn’t set out to pay for,” Walker said.

“We feel we’ve gone too far in the direction of just allowing student fees,” Lively said.

According to Lively, this large slate of fees puts an undue burden on students to understand where their money is going and places an administrative burden on the AMS and the University to process approximately two million opt-out fee transactions per year, which can cost tens of thousands of dollars.

However, when the proposed changes were posted online to a public Facebook group earlier in the week, many students that normally don’t attend Assembly came as members-at-large to voice their concerns for the impact on the clubs community. 

Several students in the gallery were concerned that the changes would mean their club couldn’t protest or negotiate with the University administration or government, which was seen as an issue for clubs like Queen’s Backing Action on Climate Change.

However, Lively clarified that lobbying didn’t refer to protesting or negotiating, but rather referred to holding scheduled meetings and forging formal agreements with the government or administration.

Lively admitted that the definitions in the outlined policy were too vague, and in an effort to respond to students’ qualms, he decided to highlight the terms “partisan political activity” and “lobbying” and task the Student Activity Fee Review Committee with clarifying them in the fall.

“The current policy is unclear,” Lively said.

The Student Activity Fee Review Committee was formed by the Student Activity Fee Task Force, a group formed  by Assembly in October of last year to put together the proposed changes. According to the Student Activity Fee Policy, the purpose of the committee is to review all applications for groups seeking fee changes and determine their eligibility. 

In a speech to the room, Clubs Caucus Chair Lauren Craik chastised the AMS for not consulting the clubs community on a clubs-centered policy, especially considering the fact that her position was created to be a direct line of communication between clubs and the AMS.

“This is not a one-off in my Queen’s experience; clubs are not seen as important stakeholders in discussions of campus policy,” Craik said.

In response, Walker said that they “didn’t quite do their job to talk to all stakeholders” and are trying to correct this “retroactively” by advocating for further clubs consultation with the Review committee.

Another contentious point for students was the proposed change that in order to pass a student fee a club must receive a two-thirds majority in referendum. In the past it has always required a simple 50 per cent majority.

Craik also vocally opposed the two-thirds majority change, explaining that most of student fees wouldn’t have passed this year had the rule already been implemented. 10 out of 19 fees on the most recent winter referendum passed with less than two-thirds majority.

Lively defended the two-thirds majority, explaining that they’d rather increase the voting threshold than set unfair restrictions on clubs applying for student fees.

“In some cases we do need broader support,” Lively said.

At several points, members of Assembly brought up the idea of tabling the motion — including adamant support from Engineering Society President Taylor Sawadsky — however, AMS policy prohibited the motion from being tabled at the year’s final meeting. 

After some further discussion, the assembly voted to include the two-thirds majority change as one of the clauses to be forwarded to and reviewed by the Student Activity Fee Review Committee in the fall.

With those clauses to be submitted for review, the policy passed unanimously, and will now need to be approved by the Board of Directors before it can be ratified.

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