SGPS must pay up, principal says

$4.5-million Queen’s Centre fee question on graduate students’ winter referendum

Society of Graduate and Professional Students Vice-President (Finance and Services) Amir Nosrat says he thinks the University should put more focus on graduate students’ issues.
Society of Graduate and Professional Students Vice-President (Finance and Services) Amir Nosrat says he thinks the University should put more focus on graduate students’ issues.

The Society of Graduate and Professional Students (SGPS) is putting the question of whether or not to give $4.5 million to the Queen’s Centre in their referendum on Feb. 17 and 18.

The fee would be $112.50 per student per year for the next 10 years, or twice that amount for the next five years.

SGPS Vice-President (Finance and Services) Amir Nosrat said the SGPS executive will be campaigning against the referendum question.

In 2002 the Vice-Principal (Advancement) George Hood asked for a $15 million student contribution to the Queen’s Centre from both undergraduate and graduate students. Costs increased and this number was increased to $30 million by 2005 to account for inflation.

At this time discussions between the SGPS, AMS and administration took place but nothing was formally agreed upon.

In 2005, the AMS signed a memorandum of understanding with the University which pledged $25.5 million to the Queen’s Centre.

This contribution translates into a mandatory $71 fee per undergraduate student from 2005 to 2010. Next year, the fee will be increasing to $141 per student for 10 years.

The memorandum suggested that the SGPS pay $4.5 million to make up the $30 million because of the proportion of undergraduate to graduate students.

“When the AMS and the administration were discussing this they just assumed a proportional amount that the SGPS would have to pay. The SGPS was informed of it but no agreement has taken place,” Nosrat said referring to the 2005 memorandum.

He said the SGPS is more opposed to the tactics the administration has used to try and force payment than the actual contribution itself.

“The administration has tried to force this on us. That’s why we are extremely opposed to it,” he said.

Nosrat said the administration is trying to convince the SGPS to donate by keeping them out of the Queen’s Centre governance structure and neglecting graduate students’ needs.

“Initially it was a matter of discussion but then after a while the principal set a bad precedent of linking this capital commitment to the governance structure of the Queen’s Centre,” he said. “Woolf essentially said he would do his best to keep the SGPS out of the Queen’s Centre governance.”

Nosrat said the administration has been overlooking issues such as the creation of a graduate and professional building or college, increased residence space for graduate and professional students and teaching assistant and teaching fellow rights.

“These have been happening for some time and I’ve had suspicions it was linked to this,” he said. “I’m disappointed to have heard it from Principal Woolf. I was expecting him to be more supportive of the graduate and professional student community.”

The SGPS currently pays about $50,000 into the operating costs of the JDUC and other student life centres and is given a share in the governance, he said. The governance structure deals with things such as space allocations, budgets and general operations.

“We are already in the governance structure of JDUC and all student life facilities and part of that is because we contribute to the operating costs,” he said. “Leaving us out of the governance structure will further alienate us from student life on campus.”

Nosrat said a draft budget is being worked out for the Queen’s Centre. The costs are shared between the AMS, the SGPS and the administration, he added.

“If we are left out of the Queen’s Centre governance as Principal Woolf has indicated, we will not be part of the operational budget,” he said.

Nosrat said the SGPS doesn’t think their stake in the governance structure should be based on their capital contribution.

“The AMS is currently proposing that the SGPS be included in the governance structure,” he said. “It’s just Principal Woolf’s stance isn’t representative of where everybody else stands,” he said.

Nosrat said the SGPS isn’t opposed to negotiations but they want to be treated better by the University. “This University is very undergraduate centric and the graduate and professional students are frequently marginalized,” he said.

“If they want to sit down and offer us something tangible, that’s when we’ll start talking,” he said, adding that he encourages the administration to look for creative ways to include graduate issues in discussions.

Woolf said he’s willing to negotiate with the SGPS.

“We’ve always indicated a willingness to provide other things,” he said. “We are in a dialogue [with the SGPS] about things we can do to improve life for graduate and professional students.”

Woolf said the SGPS informally agreed to pay the $4.5 million.

“The SGPS were at the table seven years ago with the AMS in the discussions to commit to make this contribution,” he said, adding that it was understood that these discussions weren’t binding. Woolf said he thinks the SGPS should contribute toward the Queen’s Centre because they will be benefitting from it.

If the SGPS chooses not to contribute to the Queen’s Centre they will likely be left out of its governance structure, Woolf said.

“It would be very, very difficult to go to the AMS and require that they share governance of the facility to which they have made very significant investment and the graduate students have not,” he said, adding that if the SGPS doesn’t contribute the University will have to look for alternative sources of funding.

Woolf declined to comment as to what these sources may be.

“In past times we would have had this situation resolved before we put a shovel tin the ground,” he said. “The situation was so desperate with the athletic facilities and student life centre that we decided to just get on with it.”

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