Student Services to begin consultations on usage of $5 million surplus

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The use of an approximate $5 million surplus in the Student Services Contingency Fund will be brought up for discussion this semester by McGill’s Committee on Student Services (CSS).

The surplus is the result of various factors, including conservative enrolment estimates and savings in wages from the 2012 MUNACA strike, according to Deputy Provost (Student Living and Learning) Ollivier Dyens.

“[The surplus] is a recent development,” Dyens said. “We’ve always kept a $1 million contingency fund so that we could do some upgrading of the Brown Building [….] At one point the government changed the financial year to 11 months, instead of 12. All of these things built up in the course of two to three years.”

Student Services consists of 12 individual units, including the Office for Students with Disabilities (OSD), Mental Health Services, and First Peoples’ House. The CSS—composed of equal parts students and non-student staff, faculty, or admin—is the main advisory body responsible for developing suggestions with regards to expenditure of the Student Services budget among individual units. Provost Anthony Masi will approve these suggestions in determining the final budget.

At the most recent CSS meeting in November 2013, Dyens suggested potentially using the surplus on services that would fall outside of the units that Student Services encompasses.

“Personally, I would have liked if we could have considered to expand the definition to not only Student Services but services to students, which is broader,” Dyens said.

One such external usage of the fund would have been extending library space during last December’s final examinations period.

“Because of the mandated budget cuts from the government, we had to cut down on the amount of space available for students in the library, because we don’t have as much security as we used to,” Dyens said. “So I wanted to invest [the fund] into having more study space for students [….] But students showed me that they we were not ready to consider that at the moment.”

Dyens’ idea was faced with opposition from student members of the CSS, who felt that such reallocation of funds would set a precedent of similar usage of designated, student-paid fees in the future, according to Elizabeth Cawley, Member Services Officer of the Post-Graduate Students’ Society (PGSS) and member of the CSS.

“Do we want more access to libraries?” Cawley said. “Yes [….] But our problem is simply the budget line that it’s coming out of. This surplus is meant for [Student Services] and these services need money, and they didn’t even get a chance to present [to CSS] what they could use that money for.”

Students’ Society of McGill University (SSMU) Vice-President University Affairs Joey Shea also said there were many needs within Students Services that could be addressed with the surplus.

“I’m just hoping that [the surplus] will be kept within Student Services,” Shea said. “So I’m happy that they’ve reassessed and the discussion is ongoing.”

Following a question by Shea at December’s academic senate meeting, which addressed the concerns of reallocating the fund, the surplus will now be reserved for usage within Student Services.

“I’ve asked Jana Luker—she’s the director of Student Services—to come up with a series of initiatives that she thinks would be interesting to invest in [within] Student Services,” Dyens said. “Those initiatives will be brought to the CSS for an advisory for discussion.”

Student input on the usage of the expenditure will be taken into consideration as well, according to Dyens.

As consultations have not yet begun, plans for student consultation have not yet been set, but will ideally take place in the near future, according to Shea.

“There is no structure put in place for this sort of thing, because it’s random that this surplus exists in the first place, so I think that how they’ll go about making the proposals […] will be something that will be decided in [meetings] of CSS,” she said.