Grad students don’t plan to help pay

University can’t force Queen’s Centre financial contribution, Vice-Principal Simpson says

Andrew Stevens, Society of Graduate and Professional Students president 2006-07, says there’s no agreement between the SGPS and the University committing them to a financial Queen’s Centre contribution.
Andrew Stevens, Society of Graduate and Professional Students president 2006-07, says there’s no agreement between the SGPS and the University committing them to a financial Queen’s Centre contribution.
Photo: 
Society of Graduate and Professional Students president Arash Farzam-Kia says graduate students don’t want to pay for a centre most of them won’t be around to use.
Society of Graduate and Professional Students president Arash Farzam-Kia says graduate students don’t want to pay for a centre most of them won’t be around to use.
Credit: 
Journal File Photo

If the University’s looking for its $4.5 million Queen’s Centre contribution from graduate students, it’s not coming anytime soon, Society of Graduate and Professional Students (SGPS) President Arash Farzam-Kia said.

“As far as I recall, there’s no bona fide agreement between us and the University,” said Farzam-Kia, who was on SGPS council for a year before he became president in 2007.

“There was never serious discussion about the pros and cons of contributing … not this year and not last year, for sure.”

Farzam-Kia said he’s heard the figure $4.5 million talked about and the SGPS is discussing it with Vice-Principal (Operations and Finance) Andrew Simpson’s office.

Any decision to introduce a student fee for the Queen’s Centre would have to pass at a graduate student referendum, he said.

“Our referendums are already over [for this year] … so as far as I know there’s no plan in the near future to contribute, to put that question before the membership.”

Farzam-Kia said he doesn’t think graduate and professional students want to financially support the building project.

“Erecting a structure isn’t something that should be done by students; it’s the responsibility of the University and the government,” he said. “For students needing to pay for a facility that they will not be here to enjoy by the time it gets completed—there are reservations.”

Simpson said there’s no formal agreement between the SGPS and the University that would bind the SGPS to contribute at all.

“We have no means or authority of binding any student society in relation to this,” he said, adding that the University’s office of advancement and his office have had ongoing discussions with the AMS and the SGPS about their contributions.

A feasibility report, prepared by then-Vice-Principal (Advancement) George Hood in 2002, cited a goal of $15 million in total student contribution. When budgeted costs rose and inflation was accounted for, the amount rose to $30 million.

“Initially working with both executives … it was verbal, it was in discussion, that these were levels of contribution,” Simpson said.

The AMS signed a memorandum of understanding with the University in December 2005, pledging $25.5 million to the Queen’s Centre project.

That agreement included a clause that states “the University will use its best efforts to ensure contributions from the students represented by the Society of Graduate and Professional Students to the project in the amount of $4.5 M.”

The SGPS didn’t sign an agreement or commit to an amount.

“After the notional idea of a contribution from the SGPS, the executive since that time hasn’t seen this as, I guess, a priority,” Simpson said.

The University continues to budget for the contribution’s eventual arrival, he said.

“In the original budget … we allowed for an amount from the AMS and we allowed for a $4.5 million figure from the SGPS,” he said. “We continue to hold up hope that the SGPS will make a contribution.”

Student fees contribute significantly to the project, Simpson said.

“The AMS fee—we certainly have budgeted for it and we’re reliant on it. … And it’s obviously a very significant part of our budget.”

If the SGPS chooses not to contribute at all, the University will have to look for additional funding.

“It’s money that we’re going to have to find from other sources,” he said. “Like all the sources we’ve been looking into with relation to the budget difficulties we’ve had.”

He said these include more donations from alumni and the provincial government. The $4.5 million wouldn’t be added to the AMS’s contribution, he said.

“Ultimately, you know, the University’s contribution may have to go up.”

Simpson said the SGPS told him this year their membership’s unlikely to accept a fee.

“I hope eventually the SGPS are prepared to contribute towards the capital costs of the University,” he said. “[The Queen’s Centre]’s services—that’s not specifically for any one group. … It’s a general benefit to everyone.”

Simpson said a contribution from the SGPS is as important a political signal of support as a financial help. More people might be encouraged to donate if there’s a visible sign students support the project, he said.

“We would be very keen to have any contribution.”

AMS General Manager Claude Sherren said the AMS hasn’t formally discussed student contributions with the SGPS since their joint presentation to the Board of Trustees Queen’s Centre executive committee in November 2003.

“At that time, both presidents were together on the process to represent students and the societies,” he said.

The presentation spoke about the need for accountability from the University and for students to have a strong voice in what gets built because it’s mostly student-used space. There’s also a line in the presentation saying the societies recognize the need for “students contributing financially” without going into specific amounts.

This presentation was followed by the creation of the Queen’s Centre student working group.

“Originally the concept was that the SGPS would be part of that working group. … And at some point the SGPS decided to not participate in that way,” Sherren said.

“That’s where it sort of stopped being on a parallel track [with the AMS].”

The student working group, run by AMS members, opted in 2004 to divide the $30 million proportionally among the student population. Undergraduates represent roughly 85 per cent and graduates are about 15 per cent of students.

“They’re 15 per cent, so $4.5 million. … No particular magic in that,” Sherren said. “The $30 million, it was achievable but had to be shared or should be shared throughout the student body.”

Sherren said the AMS, SGPS and the office of advancement never met together to discuss it.

“We talked with advancement, [the SGPS] talked with advancement,” he said.

“And certainly we have … registered our unhappiness that the AMS students are contributing and 15 per cent of the student body is not. … It’s unusual.”

Andrew Stevens, SGPS president in 2006-07 and PhD ’09, said he didn’t have formal discussions with the University or the AMS about contributing to the project during his tenure.

“The only discussion that came up was a very informal conversation with Andrew Simpson and he never, at any point, mentioned that the SGPS had made a promise … and he never specified an amount,” he said, adding that it was during a chat after a Board of Trustees meeting and the subject happened to come up.

The conversation was more about the SGPS contributing a token amount to show their support for the project, he said.

Stevens said he ran his campaign against a mandatory fee for the Queen’s Centre but tried to bring up a token contribution with SGPS council and in e-mails to members.

“I didn’t get any feedback whatsoever; nobody even blinked an eye and said we should support it.”

Stevens conducted a survey last year asking graduate students for their opinions on the project, he said.

“We asked, ‘Do you support the Queen’s Centre project?’ The majority said yes. Following that, ‘Do you support a mandatory fee for the Queen’s Centre project?’ And even more people said no.”

To his knowledge, the SGPS has never made a promise to contribute any amount, much less the $4.5 million figure.

“It was always, ‘Maybe you can make a token contribution’,” he said. “There was no institutional memory or recollection of [$4.5 million] being an amount that we were expected to follow.”

He said Simpson told him a token contribution could be as simple as $20,000 or $30,000.

“It was, ‘Even if you were to make a contribution as small as this, it would show some support for the project,’” Stevens said.

He said there wasn’t enough interest within the SGPS to bring the possibility of a token donation to referendum.

The SGPS will eventually make payments to use the facilities in the Queen’s Centre, he said.

“We will contribute to the Queen’s Centre—when we’re in there we’ll be paying fees according to the space that we’re allocated.”

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