Grey House groups face removal

The Grey House at 51 Bader Lane is a joint-space between the AMS, the SGPS and the University. It contains office space for OPIRG, EQuIP and the Levana Gender Advocacy Centre.
The Grey House at 51 Bader Lane is a joint-space between the AMS, the SGPS and the University. It contains office space for OPIRG, EQuIP and the Levana Gender Advocacy Centre.

Three student groups were told they have until Sept. 30 to vacate their Grey House spaces.

The Kingston Ontario Public Interest Research Group (OPIRG), the Levana Gender Advocacy Centre and the Education on Queer Issues Project (EQuIP) were given notices on Aug. 29 by the AMS’s Space Allocation Committee.

The notices were signed by all four members of the committee: AMS Vice-President of University Affairs Kieran Slobodin, Clubs Manager Craig Draeger, Commissioner of Internal Affairs Mark Preston and Student Centre Officer Gillian Shields.

The committee determines what AMS-ratified clubs go into AMS exclusive and shared spaces.

Both OPIRG and the Levana Gender Advocacy Centre failed to re-ratify as AMS clubs—something the AMS has identified as a requirement to be eligible for AMS space.

EQuIP, a committee within the AMS’s Social Issues Commission is being removed because according to AMS policy, committees aren’t eligible for separate club space.

All organizations have existed in the Grey House for at least a decade.

Former AMS President Safiah Chowdhury said she was puzzled when she heard the groups would be removed from the Grey House.

“Policy of course is in place for a reason … but historically it’s always been applied with some flexibility,” Chowdhury, ArtSci ’11, said.

Along with former Vice-President of Operations Ben Hartley, Chowdhury signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with leaders from OPIRG, Levana and Queen’s Pride Project on April 30 this year.

The agreement identified the groups’ unique place on campus.

“If the MOU had actually been followed up on and been in place, the AMS would not … unilaterally be able to [remove the groups],” she said.

Although the MOU was signed by all bodies involved, it wasn’t seen by the Space Allocation Committee. Under the AMS’s Operations and Management Agreement, this is a requirement for the memorandum to be valid.

Kieran Slobodin, vice-president of university affairs, worked closely with the former executive last year. When Chowdhury and her team came to the end of the term, she said it was understood that the new executive would pick up where they left off with the MOU.

“We were under the impression that CES was behind this,” Chowdhury said. “It was kind of understood that the outgoing [vice-president of university affairs] would initiate, but the incoming [vice-president of university affairs] would continue on.”

She said the actions taken by the current executive against the Grey House groups aren’t in the best interest of students.

“There’s no other space in Kingston that services this need … it’s being dealt with very poorly,” she said. “When I spoke to Kieran recently, I asked them whether or not he’s aware of how sketchy this looks.”

Chowdhury said if the AMS wanted to, they could have worked towards changing policy this summer, which would have prevented the three groups from being in this position.

“They could enact the MOU and try to ratify it in the fall,” she said.

Slobodin said the AMS acted within their policy because both OPIRG and Levana didn’t re-ratify as AMS clubs, even after multiple warnings.

“We feel that we’ve dealt very fairly with these groups,” Slobodin, ArtSci ’12, said. “Our intent is to extend the ratification deadline, which would allow them to apply for space.”

Slobodin also said that over the summer, AMS Council acts as AMS Assembly, and that the Space Allocation Committee would have had the ability to change policy.

“But, their focus [was] on establishing re-ratification status,” he said.

Over the summer, the Space Allocation Committee reviewed the MOU and determined that it was not valid because it hadn’t passed through the right bodies before it was signed.

The groups involved were informed that it was invalid in July.

“Without re-ratification of the groups in question, going into another [MOU] and discussing that would have been out of line with our policy,” he said. Society of Graduate and Professional Students (SGPS) President Jillian Burford-Grinnell said the AMS doesn’t have the right to remove Levana and OPIRG from the Grey House without their approval.

Both OPIRG and the Levana Gender Advocacy Centre receive opt-outable student fees from the AMS and SGPS membership, which means that neither group is under solely AMS or SGPS control.

Under the new Operations and Management agreement, the AMS and SGPS have entered into a lease with the University for buildings like the Grey House.

“When it comes to the Grey House, the entire space … is designated as joint space,” Burford-Grinnell, MA ’11, said. “It is paid for … jointly by all three parties.”

She said the SGPS wasn’t consulted before the AMS delivered the removal notices to the group. They were also not informed that the groups were being removed from the Grey House.

“I got a couple frantic emails from our members,” she said. “Our members and the Kingston community use those resources.”

The AMS held a meeting with Grey House group representatives on Sept. 6. Burford-Grinnell asked to attend but was told that the meeting specifically related to AMS space allocation.

“I was told not to attend,” she said.

Along with 11 other members from the SGPS, AMS and the University, Burford-Grinnell sits on the Student Life Centre council.

The council, which determines how the Student Life Centre is run, will tentatively be meeting in the third or fourth week of September.

Burford-Grinnell said council will have the authority to stop the groups from being removed from the space.

“Alternatively they’d have the power to move the groups.”

Student Centre Officer Gillian Shields sits on the Space Allocation Committee. She said there are no “hard decisions” being made about the future occupancy of the Grey House. But, before other groups would be able to use the space, a full space audit would have to be conducted.

“There were formerly a few clubs occupying the attic space which had to be removed for safety reasons,” Shields, ArtSci ’11, said.

Shields said she’s uncertain how long an audit would take.

“It depends on several groups participation. Including [Physical Plant Services], SGPS, it would also have to be in consultation with [Student Life Centre] council which has representatives from the University,” she said.

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