Last week it was announced that in order to help fund the Faculty of Dentistry’s $18 million move into new facilities on the corner of McGill College Avenue and Sherbrooke, the Dental Students’ Society (DSS) has voted to impose a $2,500-per-semester annual fee on all future members. Although well-intentioned, this fee is seriously problematic—by applying the fee only to students starting the program in the 2014-15 academic year or later, the DSS ensured that no current voting member would have to pay the fee. This is a decidedly undemocratic decision,
Whether or not it is the role of the students to voluntarily pitch in towards funding university initiatives beyond what’s paid through tuition is a worthwhile discussion—this is the second time in recent memory that this has taken place. Last spring, the Engineering Undergraduate Society (EUS) voted to enact a two-year “emergency fund” of $40 per semester, which hopes to maintain the faculty’s quality of education amid McGill’s burdened financial situation.
The new dentistry fee differs from the latter scenario in nearly every way—the indefinite timeframe and astronomical cost for students are cause for concern. Most troubling, however, is the decision to exempt current students from paying the fee. While future students were naturally given no voice into this fee which they alone will pay, they will also face an uphill battle if they later attempt to reverse it—it will be two years before even half of the DSS’ membership is paying the fee, making a successful fee reversal by referendum unlikely before then.
With a projected completion date of June 2014 for the faculty’s move, students not currently in their last year will benefit from the new facilities, while deferring financial responsibility to incoming students. A more reasonable approach might have been a graduated fee, decreasing by year. This would ensure that current students do contribute while, still making an effort to minimize any re-budgeting necessary for them to accommodate the fee.
While there is an argument to be made that the fee is relatively insignificant when compared with the earning projections for a dentist, the real issue at play here, however, is one of democratic responsibility. This is no less an imposition on future students than if the McGill administration had opted to unilaterally raise fees. Student associations exist to serve the interests of their membership—in this decision however, the DSS has spectacularly failed its posterity.