AMS grapples with ‘significant damage’ after Student Choice Initiative

“We are very disheartened to see our Government do this,” Society VP Munro Watters says

Incoming AMS Executive observes emergency assembly help Feb. 7.
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On Thursday, the AMS held an emergency assembly to discuss the future of the Society in its current form.
 
The meeting was held after the Province presentation released to university administrations across Ontario. The presentation revealed essential fees will pertain to “athletics and recreation, career services, health and counselling, academic support, student ID cards, transcripts and convocation processes, financial aid offices, student transit passes, walksafe programs, andstudent buildings.”
 
Students can opt-out of the remaining fees, spelling a significant cut to the funding of student unions and services.
 
At Queen’s, the AMS opt-out rate is usually 30 to 35 per cent, according to an email Vice-President Munro Watters (University Affairs) sent to AMS staff on Wednesday. The Society anticipates this rate could increase with the new provisions.
 
In Thursday’s three-hour Assembly, members discussed which student fees should be considered essential and how the AMS might save the revenue lost to student opt-outs. The Board of Directors is projected to enact these changes within 48 hours of the meeting.
 
“We are currently working with the AMS Board of Directors and AMS Assembly to determine what changes we can make to ensure the AMS can carry on at all as an organization,” Watters wrote in her email on Wednesday.
 
She added the Ministry of Training, College, and Universities has tasked universities with overseeing fee categorization. “If Universities were to incorrectly categorize fees with the Ministry’s given framework, they risk the Government stripping them of their operating grants that are essential to institutions’ operations,” the email read. 
 
“We are very disheartened to see our Government do this,” Watters wrote. “[H]owever, as an organization we will continue to work as hard as we can to support our students and help campus thrive as this is what we are mandated to do.” 
 
AMS Emergency Assembly Recap
 
President Miguel Martinez began the meeting by revealing AMS hiring—which was supposed to begin on Feb. 8—will be delayed until the Board of Directors determines where cuts will be made. 
 
These decisions will be made over the next 48 hours. 
 
“We will have to cut a significant amount of our programming, a significant amount of the services we offer,” Martinez said. “As much as we don’t want anything to go, some things will unfortunately  have to go.”
 
Martinez projected large infrastructural changes and “significant damage” to the AMS, but asked Assembly and members at-large to provide insight into which areas of the Society they consider valuable. 
 
All commissioners gave a 10 minute presentation about the value and operations of their commissions before the floor opened for discussion. 
 
Cost-saving proposals ranged from decreasing salaries to cancelling the ReUnion street festival, restructuring committees as clubs, and running Queen’s Model Parliament once every two years.
 
Martinez maintained nothing was being decided that night. However, some Assembly members felt uncomfortable with the discussion’s short notice. 
 
ASUS President Sagal Sharma, while recognizing the importance of the emergency discussion, said she would have preferred to have more statistics available and data-driven conversation.
 
“Personally, I feel very unprepared for this meeting,” she said. “While I can familiarize myself with AMS practices, I can’t speak to the levels of engagement.” Sharma added unless Assembly goes line-by-line into what happens within the AMS, she wasn’t “too sure how to have the most effective conversation.”
 
Sharma added she would write her own report and send it to Mikela Page, chair of the board of directors, and encouraged others to do the same. Page said if any Assembly members chose to email her personal reports, they would have until 10 a.m. on Feb. 8 because of the restricted timeline. 
 
In response to several concerns about which positions and services will be cut, Martinez stressed the difficulty of the Society’s standing in deciding what services would be removed.
 
“It’s going to be challenging. Mistakes will be made,” he said.
 
Students can email their thoughts about the AMS budget and which fees should be considered essential at board.chair@ams.queensu.ca.
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