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SUS retroactively runs fee referendum questions following confusion over constitution

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The Science Undergraduate Society (SUS) is retroactively running two referendum questions regarding student fees that were collected in the January statement for all Science and Arts & Science students. The SUS Base Fee and the newly-introduced Student Space Improvement Fee (SCSS) were collected under the impression that their referendum questions had passed when students had voted in November during the mislabeled Fall 2014 referendum, which was run instead under online ratification guidelines.

The SUS executives initially brought the two fee questions as motions to the General Assembly (GA) held on Nov. 5, 2014. Because the GA failed to meet quorum, the GA results were presented to the SUS General Council (GC) as a consultative body, in accordance to Article 7.1 of the SUS general assembly bylaws. The GC then approved to send the two fee questions into a referendum to be voted on by all Science and Arts & Science students.

According to Zach Houston, Science representative to the Students’ Society of McGill University (SSMU), the confusion stemmed from the fact that the fee questions were sent out as “Fall referendum questions” yet operated under online ratification guidelines, which have a lower quorum requirement than referendum questions. Houston, along with the SUS Speaker and CRO, determined that quorum had not been met for the fee questions following the Dec. 4 SSMU Council meeting when Houston was asked by Council about voter turnout at the GA. However, this occurred after SUS executives had already submitted the results to Ollivier Dyens, deputy provost (Student Life and Learning) (DPSLL).

“Although the questions went to referendum [in the Fall], the proper procedures for a referendum were not followed,” Houston’s report to the Jan. 15 SSMU Council reads. “Instead, the procedures for online ratification of GA motions were followed [….] However, the ratification was unnecessary, as the GA motions were referred to General Council and thus did not require ratification.”

According to SUS President Shannon Herrick, the questions were originally thought to have passed with a six per cent voter turnout, which was above the SUS constitution’s five per cent online ratification requirement (Article 22.1.3) but below the 10 per cent referendum requirement (Article 20.4). 

“As a CRO, I am not responsible for GA ratification questions,” SUS Chief Returning Officer (CRO) Danielle Toccalino said. “So they were not passed by me before they were posed to the entire science population for the online ratification. I am responsible for any referendum questions, and this was the step that was mistakenly missed. The ratification results were taken as referendum results.”

According to Article 22.7 of the SUS constitution, “All resolutions passed at the General Assembly must be submitted to an online vote for ratification, overseen by the Chief Returning Officer.”

However, Toccalino stated that the SUS Computer Task Force (CTF) runs the online elections software and because the GA had not met quorum, she was not involved.

“As the ratification was of the outcome of a consultative body, it was not binding, and therefore did not need my involvement to my understanding and interpretation of our constitution and by-laws,” she said.

Both the increased Base Fee and SCSS fee were charged to students’ January statements. According to SUS executives, these fees are currently being held in a closed account and will be refunded to students should the Winter 2015 referendum questions fail to pass.

The first referendum question sought to raise the SUS Base Fee from $7.50 to $12.50 for full-time science students. The second referendum question sought to levy the newly-created opt-outable SCSS fee, which would charge $7.00 per semester for full-time Science students.

VP Internal Shaun Lampen stated during the SUS Fall GA that the SCSS fee would go towards renovating Burnside Hall. 

“The renovation […] is meant for making [Burnside Hall] conducive to student space and studying,” Lampen said.

The questions were sent to students as “Fall referendum questions” and the results labeled as “Fall referendum results”, with 58.9 percent voting “Yes” to the increase in the Base Fee, and 59.3 percent voting “Yes” to the new SSCS fee.

“On Jan. 7, the SUS General Council acknowledged the error and resolved to send both questions to a Winter referendum,” Houston’s report reads. 

However, an email sent out by VP Communications May Yin-Liao on Jan. 18 still stated that “the motions to increase the SUS base fee and to introduce a Student Space Improvement Fee were passed at [the GA] and ratified online in the Fall 2014 semester.”

“I think the confusion […] lies in the fact that the motions that were passed at the GA were not directly asking to change the SUS base fee or introduce a new fee, but instead, were asking for permission to bring the fees to a referendum,” said Yin-Liao. “However, it was indeed our mistake for letting the office of the [deputy provost] go forward with adding the new fees with only the GA online ratification results provided and not the referendum results.”

SUS VP Finance Eileen Bui stated that the questions being run in the Winter are not identical to the ones from the Fall. She stated that the deputy provost’s office wanted the questions to be reworded to exclude the part on index inflation based on the Consumer Price Index (CPI) due to the market’s unpredictability. 

“Later on, if it passes, then in the financial bylaws I would change it so that every three or five years the VP Finance would submit a motion in order to index the fee to whatever the inflation [actually] is,” Bui said.

Herrick acknowledged SUS’ error and stated that the executives were making changes to prevent this type of mistake from happening again.

"I wish we could have [caught] such a little thing earlier on,” Herrick said. “We are making a bunch of revisions to our bylaws and constitution to make sure that in the future something like this won’t happen. Our fee hasn’t been changed in seven years. It’s an unfortunate situation and we’re trying to make the best of it.”

This article was corrected Monday, February 2, 2015.

  • Shaun Lampen

    Fact Check: May-Yin Liao is the VP Communications {that stings guys :'( }
    Student Space Improvement Fee is meant for improvements in both Burnside and other science student spaces on campus. The student spaces must be available to all Science students and not be an exclusive space ex: SUS Office is an exclusive space

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