Amending OUSA

AMS Assembly amends constitution changing process of OUSA fee renewal

At last night’s AMS Assembly, an amendment to the AMS constitution was passed allowing the AMS to determine student affiliation with the Ontario Undergraduate Student Alliance (OUSA).

The section of AMS constitution under discussion outlines policy on external alignment with provincial and federal postsecondary lobby organizations.

Chris Rudnicki, vice president (university affairs) said OUSA is an organization aimed at lobbying the government to lower university tuition, increase financial aid and improve the quality of education at universities. He said it’s the only postsecondary lobby group the AMS is aligned with, meaning they are currently the only group of this nature outside of the University to which students must pay fees.

Before last night’s amendment, students had to vote whether or not they want to pay mandatory fees, like the OUSA fee, every three years at the fall or winter referendum.

Now, AMS voting members are exclusively responsible for the fee approval or rejection in cases of external alignment with provincial and federal postsecondary lobby organizations.

“If the AMS decides to reject the fee, students will no longer have to pay for it we will no longer be affiliated with OUSA,” Rudnicki said.

Whether or not this amendment is rejected does not impact Queen’s becoming affiliated with other postsecondary lobby organizations in the future.

“At the end of last year, Assembly allowed membership with Canada Alliance of Student Associations (CASA) to expire, but we can still be affiliated Canadian Federation of Students (CFS) and CASA in the future,” he said.

The amendment passed but some gallery members, including Elizabeth Drew, were adamant that this was not a good decision.

“I’m very disappointed that the constitution was amended. There was no one in support in the gallery,” Drew, ArtSci ’12, said. “It’s ridiculous that OUSA doesn’t get the same process as other mandatory fees.

“It’s frustrating. I’m in other groups on campus that have to go to referendum. We put our whole existence on the line, but we’re changing the constitution to accomodate OUSA. Assembly shouldn’t be passing motions to give them more power.”

Presidents’ Caucus proposed amending the AMS constitution to Kieran Slobodin, AMS academic affairs commissioner, in mid-October.

Slobodin said a lack of information about OUSA’s function among students contributed to the decision to put forward an amendment at assembly.

“We had been in discussion over the upcoming referendum and realized that we weren’t spending as much time engaging students about important issues as we wanted,” Slobodin said. “We weren’t able to reach out to as many first years who may not know about OUSA.”

In order to make an amendment, there must be two readings of the constitution and two votes held at AMS assembly. Last night’s assembly was the second reading. The first occurred on Nov. 11 and was met favourably, Rudnicki said.

Each year students pay a specific AMS student fee set by the Board of Directors, several corporate fees that can only increase by referendum and optional fees, for groups like the Debating Union or Sailing Team, which students can opt out of in September. The OUSA fee is categorized as a mandatory fee, like the fees for the Queen’s Centre or Walkhome. Much like optional fees, mandatory fees need to pass through referendum every three years, but unlike an optional fee, students cannot opt-out.

This year, OUSA increased their fee from $2.18 to $2.68 so Slobodin said membership cost must be assessed.

“Every time there is a fee increase a referendum must be held, and we commit to pay this amount for three years. So, if we approve this fee, for the next three years we will be paying it,” Slobodin said.

In the 2007 fall referendum, the OUSA fee increased from $1.98 to $2.07 and 66.51 per cent of students voted in favor of remaining affiliated with OUSA.

It automatically increased to $2.18 because the Consumer Price Index has increased $0.11 and the fee is adjusted annually according to the CPI.

Rather than having an automatic campus-wide referendum, the process for deciding whether to renew OUSA fees and remain affiliated with the organization will be slightly different with the new amendment. Under the amended policy, two thirds of the AMS voting members must approve the fee in order for it to be renewed and three quarters must approve the fee in order for it to increase.

Slobodin said the process for renewing other mandatory fees could be subject to Assembly’s decision if members of the gallery express concerns.

“If other mandatory fees were to be changed they would need to come to Assembly, voice their concerns and Assembly would consider it,” he said.

Slobodin said students shouldn’t worry about the AMS deciding whether or not students continue to pay OUSA fees.

“Students that are dissatisfied would have to petition elected officials to call vote or start collecting signatures to have referendum,” Slobodin said, adding that 750 signatures would have to be collected and presented to Assembly.

“We haven’t ruled out having referendums. However, rather than there being default referendum where this automatically occurs once every three years, students would have to initiate one,” he said.

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