SGPS motion restricting student fees causes concern

Following contention, eligibility criteria sent for review by finance committee

At an April meeting of the Society of Graduate and Professional Students (SGPS), a proposed motion on student fee eligibility criteria set off some alarms.

The motion was first read to Council on April 12, and attempted to establish three sets of criteria for student fee eligibility.

As the motion was originally written, the SGPS would discontinue any student fee contributions to organizations that pay out any salary, wage or honoraria.

Furthermore, eligible organizations wouldn’t be able to engage in “political, partisan or issue advocacy” or fund external scholarships, bursaries or charities.

The motion was moved by outgoing SGPS President, Chris Cochrane, and seconded by outgoing Vice President (Professional) Mark Asfar, and prompted pushback from council members.

Many were concerned that the new criteria would disqualify student groups with a focus on fundraising for local charities, some of which have been affiliated with the SGPS for years.

“The vagueness of that language was problematic,” SGPS council member, Korey Pasch, said in an interview with The Journal, adding that it was also unclear why the three clauses were thought necessary.

“If it’s a non-profit organization, and most charities are, they have staff, and the fact that they have staff would preclude them from receiving funding from the SGPS fees.”

Pasch also noted that many charities could be seen as engaging in issue advocacy, depending on how the language was interpreted.

Cochrane addressed Pasch’s concerns in an email to The Journal, stating that another bylaw, 21.1.3.c.a.iv, was added to replace, in part, and expand on funding for University facilities, charitable organizations, and student groups.

According to Cochrane, the intention of the proposed student fee criteria was to avoid any duplication of services available and focus student funds on student run services.

The proposed amendments would also require an SGPS voting presence in each organization, to ensure “fees are being used appropriately.”

During the April Council meeting, Cochrane indicated that the change in eligibility was related to a change in policy by the Queen’s Board of Trustees.

Though he admitted that the proposed SGPS criteria was “more restrictive than what is being mandated by the Board of Trustees,” he and former speaker Eric Rapos both indicated that the decision had been passed down from above in some capacity.

Rapos said that fees could not go to groups off campus at all, stating “that’s from the Board, not us”.

The Board protocol Cochrane was referencing was item 13.d on the May Board agenda, which stated that at the request of the SGPS and the AMS, protocol would be revised so that all non-tuition-related activity fees had to be introduced or changed through referendum.

The item states that student fees may only go towards non-academic services and programs designed to enhance student life. However, none of the criteria listed in the original SGPS motion was explicitly listed in the Board document.

“On behalf of graduate students in the department of Political Studies, we’d like to know what the reasoning is behind all of this,” Pasch said.

“If the pressure is coming from the Board of Trustees, in my personal opinion, that’s where we should be resisting or putting attention.”

Other members of the SGPS agree with Pasch’s sentiment, believing that it is the executives’ duty to push back on the administration where and when necessary.

During the council meeting, Philosophy representative Jared Houston said the SGPS “should be resisting the Board of Trustees’ pressure to change these fee policies.”

Cochrane disagreed, writing to The Journal that “it would be foolish to argue that a large proportion of the SGPS feels a certain way about anything in particular, as the opinions of our membership are so varied and participation is so low.”

Cochrane said he doesn’t believe the SGPS or the student body should be in a “constant adversarial role with respect to the administration”, adding that more can be achieved working together.

“I certainly think it would be foolish for a student leader to "retaliate" to a policy change, but, that is likely because I think that such reactionary approaches are, ultimately, futile,” he stated.

Speaking to the confusion around the motion, Cochrane explained that “this is a very complicated matter that, admittedly, was initially communicated poorly.”

However, he was puzzled as to why, there had been limited pushback when the motion had originally been provided to councillors over a month in advance of the meeting.

“For whatever reason, despite there clearly being much concern over this motion, only one councillor submitted any questions,” he wrote.

The single concern had been submitted to the Vice-President (Finance) Christina Huber, who didn’t share it with Cochrane or attend the meeting where the matter was discussed.

Following the contention, the motion was voted down at the Council meeting, effectively ruling that the issue couldn’t return to council for a full calendar year.

However, at the SGPS General Meeting on April 26, the issue was revisited. After “a good amount of discussion”, according to Cochrane, an alternate solution was reached.

The contended eligibility criteria was taken back for review by the Finance and Services Standing committee over the summer, to bring recommendations to Council in September.

The committee will investigate the feasibility of continued support for external charities and ensure that the SGPS policy falls in alignment with external University policies. 

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