Representatives from concerned student groups met together Monday night to discuss a suggested reform to the fee levy system that could affect their operations drastically.
The Custodial committee, charged with reviewing changes to the CSU’s regulations and by-laws, made its first report to council at the council meeting two weeks ago. The report included a controversial recommendation to have student groups be re-ratified every three years in order to receive their funding. It could take the form of a referendum every few years with the student body voting for or against each of 20 (plus) groups that receive funds through fee levies.
The idea galvanized at least 13 student groups into action, saying they are prepared to mount a campaign to oppose the idea if it is to be passed by council.
Representatives from CJLO radio station, People’s Potato, le Frigo vert, Sustainable Concordia, the 2110 Centre, QPIRG and all three student newspapers were present at Monday’s meeting, initiated by CUTV station manager Jason Gondziola.
“It’s a procedural problem – they have not consulted us, we have learned of it through sympathetic people who have tipped us off. There should have been consultation,” said Gondziola.
Anika Henry, VP Academic and an executive on the committee, said the committee was going to speak with the stakeholders – the student groups – after they had made the initial recommendations.
“Technically, this document hasn’t been presented yet,” she said. “The recommendations were made public at council meeting but it went to the lawyer because we needed to make sure that the things we’re doing are sound . . . even tangible, reachable.”
Noah Stewart-Ornstein, a member of the Custodial committee, said there’s no chance it would become reality any time soon.
After meeting with the committee Tuesday, Stewart-Ornstein said it would likely only go before council for approval as late as May, and even then, it would still have to be passed by students in a by-election likely next November.
Henry said it was “extremely unlikely that the future executive wouldn’t approve [the committee’s work] thus far.”
“In the next couple weeks, everyone will have a copy of the proposed changes, and [stakeholders] can give their input and I’m sure there will likely be a lot of switching around after that,” said Stewart-Ornstein.
The committee was created by the CSU in October, in part to make the fee levy process more accountable. Until now, there has been no way to ensure that groups who receive funding through the fee levies use the money for its intended purpose. One of the recommendations was for an audit of all the groups’ finances.
Without exception, those in attendance at Monday’s meeting said their group complies with all Quebec’s laws for non-profit organizations.
“This came from a desire for accountability from student groups,” said council member Tony Alfonso at the meeting. As a member of the People’s Potato collective, he also has a stake in what will be decided. Alfonso voiced concern at the council meeting that the proposal would create a lot of unnecessary work for the groups.
Gondziola agreed and said most student-run organizations, including CUTV, have “better things to do with [their] time than to re-campaign every three years. The reason you have a fee levy in place is so you have secured funding, so you don’t have to do that,” he said.
When he heard about it, CJLO’s station manager Chris Quinnell was equally worried. “With a fee levy renewal period of three years, it will become impossible for student organizations to make long-term plans,” said Quinnell. “We would be extremely reluctant to undertake large projects that would ultimately benefit Concordia as a whole.”
He emphasized that if the station were to lose its funding, all the group’s previous investments would have been for nothing. “We would have a $30,000 antenna that would see no more use than a flagpole,” said Quinnell.
Quinnell said he fully supports an accountability process. “Establishing an auditing procedure would be a much more proactive solution . . . [we] would even be willing to help pay for such an independent audit.”
A member of Sustainability Concordia said she was worried that students wouldn’t know what their group does. “There’s no way in three years students can interact with all our organizations and figure out what we’re all about,” said XX.
“This is an issue of heritage,” said Gondziola. “The Link has been around for decades and decades, [and] People’s Potato for around 10 years. CUTV is Canada’s oldest student run TV station.” He said it would be a loss to the Concordian community if one of these collectives couldn’t continue because they didn’t have the revenue or support.