Editorial, Opinion

PGSS Winter 2016 Referendum Endorsements

The McGill Tribune gives its endorsements for the Post-Graduate Students' Society of McGill University (PGSS) Winter 2016 Referendum.

Legal Information Clinic Fee Levy: “Yes” 

The Legal Information Clinic at McGill (LICM) provides essential services to undergraduate and graduate students alike. It is completely student-run and provides free legal information. The clinic does not provide legal advice, but helps students navigate channels and learn their rights. Student Advocacy, part of the LICM, represents students to the university in cases of disciplinary offence or mistreatment by the university. In short, while the presence of the LICM may not be loud or immediately apparent, it is a key component of the student experience. 

This referendum question seeks to resolve the disparity that currently exists in fees paid to the LICM. Graduate students typically use the LICM far more than undergraduates, but pay less for the same services. Currently, undergraduate students pay $4.50 per semester for the LICM, whereas graduate students pay $2.00 per semester. This, however, is not the only reason for the increase. 

The fee has not been increased for graduate students since 1990. If adjusted for inflation, the fee would now be $3.29. As such, the increase accounts for inflation while also enabling the LICM to improve its services. 

If the fee levy fails, the LICM has said that they will readjust the services that are available to PGSS members in proportion to how much they pay vis-a-vis undergraduate students. The consequence of such an adjustment would be devastating for a student body that needs free consultations. The key draws of the LICM are that it is open 40 hours a week, is available easily on campus, and employs seven students, as well as its advocacy services. Not only does it provide invaluable experience for Law students, it also makes its services available to all McGill students. By raising the fee, it will increase its accessibility to the student body. 

The argument against the fee increase contends that the LICM is redundant. However, as a bilingual clinic that provides free services to students, it is particularly important for many McGill students—especially those who are anglophone and newcomers to Montreal. Though other clinics undoubtedly exist and provide similar services in Montreal, the ease of accessing a legal clinic on campus cannot be understated. Moreover, receiving advice from students who are familiar with the inner-workings of McGill is particularly important when students are dealing with academic-specific complaints and concerns.

World University Service of Canada Refugee Scholarship Fee Levy: “Yes”

The World University Services Canada (WUSC) is a non-profit group that works to provide education to refugees. It is represented on multiple campuses across Canada by student groups, including WUSC McGill. WUSC heads the Student Refugee Program (SRP), the only program of its kind in the world. Refugees are usually not permitted to study in their country of refuge, but through the SRP refugees may become students. The SRP provides funding for tuition and living costs in their first year of education. At the end of their first year, the students apply for permanent residency and may then access student loans.

The current fee levy of $0.50 is not sufficient to cover two students. WUSC has been dipping into its endowment in order to maintain its current levels of support since 2011, but this fund will soon run out. Not only will increasing the fee enable WUSC to support two students, it will also allow it to support an additional student per year. $2.00 per student will enable WUSC to support three students through the SRP next year; if this question fails, they will only be able to support two students in 2017-2018. 

The WUSC non-opt-outable fee began in 1986 at $0.50. It has not increased since then. Non-opt-outable fees are incredibly important for initiatives on campus, such as the SRP, that require a stable source of income in order to support its work. If its revenue were variable year to year, WUSC would be constrained to making decisions based on short time horizons and more limited funds. In the case of supporting refugee students, a source of stable income is a matter of humanitarian need. The return for student fees is substantial and has a clear, direct impact. By paying the fee, students are directly contributing to the education of someone who would otherwise not have access to McGill. 

Though the difference between two and three students seems small on paper, this would be a dramatic and concrete improvement. Students who pay the fee know exactly where the money is going—to refugee students who would otherwise be unable to receive a university education. The refugee crisis unfolding around the world brings the urgency of programs such as the SRP into focus. The need for programs like the SRP will not expire. By proposing to increase the fee, WUSC demonstrates that it is taking a global perspective on this financial issue. In supporting the fee increase, the McGill community would demonstrate its commitment to an inclusive, accessible campus. 

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