Admin invalidates fall referendum results

Campus organizations QPIRG McGill and CKUT Radio face an uncertain future following the McGill administration’s announcement that it will not accept the results of the fall referendum. 

Last November, the fall referendum featured two questions on whether QPIRG and CKUT should exist and if their student fees should cease to be opt-outable via the Minerva online system and instead be refundable directly though each organization. Each organization’s question received a majority “yes” vote, with 72.3 per cent and 65.6 per cent for CKUT and QPIRG respectively. Voter turnout was 24.7 per cent of the undergraduate student body, up 9.5 per cent from the previous year. 

 “The referendum results were unclear.  By including several issues in the same question, the student body was not able to unequivocally indicate support for CKUT or QPIRG,” Morton Mendelson, Deputy Provost (Student Life and Learning), wrote in an email to the Tribune.

Kira Page, member of the QPIRG Board of Directors and McGill alumni, questioned the administration’s motives.  

“They’ve offered a bunch of reasons and usually come back to the unclarity [sic] of the question but I think most of it is coming from a real unwillingness to let student groups control their own finances,” she said. “We sort of expected this sort of response from the administration … just because of the way the administration has been dealing with these organizations and has generally responded to our frustrations as opt-outable groups.” 

Because the referenda are run by Elections SSMU, a student-run organization, the administration does not have established guidelines on how referendum questions should be worded. However, Mendelson said that the administration encourages consultation to ensure the clarity of results. 

“I learned about the QPIRG and CKUT referendum questions after they were published.  Although I indicated to the two organizations that the questions were problematic, it was apparently too late for them to be changed or withdrawn,” he said. “It is a shame that we weren’t consulted about the questions before they were proposed.”

The administration is advising QPIRG and CKUT to enter the winter referendum and to separate the two clauses of their fall referendum question into two questions. If they do not pose two questions, there remains the possibility that McGill administration will not renegotiate the Memorandum of Agreement (MoA), which would include the lease of the buildings and the student fee agreement. The MoA is a document that governs each group’s relationship with the administration. Both MoAs will expire in June 2012.

“If we don’t get to negotiate our  lease we’re afraid of getting kicked out,” an Myriam Zaidi, undergraduate representative on CKUT’s Board of Directors, said. “We have a studio, it’s very hard for us to leave our space.”

At the time of press, neither QPIRG nor CKUT released a decision on whether they will run again in the winter referendum.

“We’re going to try to use the student support we already have …  as much as possible to pressure the administration into accepting what students have very clearly said they want,” Page said. “We don’t see [running two questions] as a very good option. We believe that our existence is intricately tied to having control over our finances.”

Following a discussion with SSMU Council during Confidential Session last Thursday, SSMU President Maggie Knight sent Mendelson a letter on behalf of the SSMU on Jan. 13, expressing “[concern] that a democratic decision by the student body—and, by extension, SSMU’s democratic processes in general—are being declared invalid.”

“All matters regarding the [MoA] between McGill and CKUT/QPIRG are external to SSMU,” Knight told the Tribune. “However, as the organization responsible for conducting the referenda required by the university as a prerequisite for the renewal of their MoAs, we have a certain responsibility to insist that students’ votes are respected.”

Fall referenda challenged at Judicial Board

The administration’s announcement came soon after two students filed a notice of appeal with the Judicial Board of the SSMU challenging the results of the QPIRG referendum question.  The co-petitioners, Zach Newburgh, former SSMU President, and Brendan Steven, member of Conservative McGill, initiated the process on Nov. 11.

“We question the constitutionality of the question that was posed to students in the referendum. Specifically, we call attention to the fact that the SSMU constitution requires that referendum questions deal with one issue and only one issue,” Steven said. 

Additionally, the students have challenged whether election by-laws were adhered to, including whether the Chief Elections Officer of Elections SSMU adhered to her responsibilities. Steven could not provide examples of violations, as documents related to the case are not yet public. 

Steven said the appeal was completely unrelated to the administration’s decision not to accept the questions, noting that they filed the appeal before McGill’s decision. 

The schedule of the public hearing will be released on Jan. 18. 

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