The McGill Tribune presents its endorsements for the Winter 2019 Student’s Society of McGill University (SSMU) referendum period.
Student Services Fee increase: Yes with reservations
In response to the inadequate mental health resources on campus, McGill’s Student Services is investing in multiple large-scale projects and renovations. This includes the Rossy Student Wellness Hub, a multi-million dollar project that will consolidate counselling, medical, and psychiatric services to promote health and wellness. Besides the Wellness Hub, Student Services plans to use the fee increase to hire more counsellors and medical doctors and to resolve current operating costs. To resolve the ensuing $3 million operational deficit, McGill has agreed to contribute an additional $337,000 to Student Services provided that the fee increase passes. Additionally, the Student Services fee has not increased in six years. The likely alternative to a fee increase would be budget cuts within Student Services, especially in areas such as Campus Life & Engagement (CL&E) and McGill’s Office for Religious and Spiritual Life (MORSL). However, if the fee is approved, Student Services must consult students about how the Rossy Wellness Hub can address their needs. An increase in the number of general practitioners, receptionists, and counsellors will better equip Student Services to navigate mental health crises, and the Tribune believes that voting ‘yes’ is a necessary step in the right direction. Still, it is important that Student Services deliver on their promises and continue investing in crucial services like CL&E or MORSL.
The Athletics Facility Improvement Fee is designed to improve and update McGill’s athletics facilities, which are operating at near or full capacity. If approved, the money from this fee increase would be matched by the university. On March 19, the Tribune published a commentary by SSMU Indigenous Affairs Commissioner Tomas Jirousek in which he asked students to vote ‘no’ to the fee. Jirousek explained that the men’s varsity team name is derogatory, and that its continued presence inside the athletics facilities isolates and excludes Indigenous students. Although Principal Suzanne Fortier has the final decision-making power with regard to the men’s varsity team name, the fee’s failure would put pressure on the administration to change the men’s varsity team name. A ‘no’ vote is a pledge of support to the Indigenous community at McGill, and to #ChangeTheName. The Tribune believes that the student body should finance these improvements, but only once they are accessible to all students.
The Space Fee would allow SSMU to collect necessary funds to support club operations and student events. The current $10.37 base fee is shared between nine campus resources, and it would be increased by $1 to accommodate a fund dedicated to renting space for campus events. The fee restructuring will give SSMU more money to rent spaces, a necessary provision given the prolonged construction on the SSMU building. Since the SSMU building closure, much of the Campus Life Fund has been depleted to pay for additional space, which is financially unsustainable. Though the reopening of the SSMU building will ultimately alleviate this stress on the Campus Life Fund, additional money is necessary to secure spaces in the interim.
SSMU’s health and dental insurance plan is an important service for many students on campus, particularly international students, who currently do not benefit from dental care under the Blue Cross International Student Health plan. The proposed Health and Dental plan fee increase responds to the rising cost of health care while expanding coverage for students. In particular, the new fee would increase coverage for psychological services, introduce coverage for massage therapy, and eliminate coverage for naturopathy. Additionally, the increase in the Dental Plan fee will cover the cost of rising dental insurance premiums. A ‘yes’ vote to increase the opt-outable Health Plan fee by $50 and the opt-outable Health and Dental Plan fee by $50 will help SSMU to continue providing comprehensive coverage.
Currently, SSMU collects fees to fund services on campus on an individual basis, with separate fees for 13 student services such as the Sexual Assault Centre of the McGill Students’ Society (SACOMSS), Television McGill (TVM), and the Arab Student Network. For the last several years, SSMU has posted significant bulk of student fees collected for some services, most recently a $325,702 surplus in 2018; while some services, like McGill Student Emergency Response Team (MSERT), still suffer extreme deficits. The question proposes putting such surpluses into a new Student Life Fund, which would be accessible to current services so that they can engage in large capital expansion projects and help pay for administrative overhead costs. The Tribune endorses voting ‘yes’ to the creation of this fund. Creating a mechanism to redistribute surplus revenue across a set of services with highly varied operating costs would maximize the utilization of existing funds and help bring SSMU into compliance with standard not-for-profit accounting practices.
The current $3.97 Safety Network Fee funds the operation of four on-campus safety services: SACOMMS, MSERT, DriveSafe, and WalkSafe. Currently, the fee’s distribution allocates $0.75 to MSERT, $2.50 to SACOMSS, $0.60 to DriveSafe, and $0.12 to WalkSafe. The motion proposes that this distribution be adjusted to account for the services’ respective financial situations: SACOMSS has consistently run surpluses over the past three years, while MSERT suffered an approximately $15 thousand deficit in 2018 and does not have the capital to sustain its operations. SSMU Vice-President (VP) Finance Jun Wang has proposed that the structure of the $3.97 fee be restructured as follows: $1.50 for MSERT, $1.75 for SACOMSS, $0.60 for DriveSafe, and $0.12 for WalkSafe. The Tribune endorses this change to the fee structure to ensure that fees for services to meet their varied needs.
The Campus Life Fund fee supports projects, events, conferences, publications, productions and athletic teams run by students. Full-time students currently pay $2 per semester while part-time students pay $1 per semester, and it is essential that they continue to support student-run initiatives. The fund allows for the spontaneous development of new projects that may not have been budgeted for at the beginning of an organization’s fiscal year and encourages groups to provide for the community regardless of their financial limitations. The fee is especially beneficial to Independent Student Groups and other groups that do not have club or service status within SSMU and therefore cannot access the Club Fund. The fund has also benefited groups during the University Centre’s closure by prioritizing applications that needed assistance financing rentable spaces.