Software engineering student launches survey to assess opting out process
When Jonathan Sugumar, a third-year software engineering student, submitted a message to be published on Spotted: Concordia, he was looking for a project that would engage his passion for user experience (UX) design, which focuses on improving the usability, accessibility and pleasure experienced when interacting with a product or service.
Spotted: Concordia, a Facebook page that allows Concordia students to submit posts that are then published anonymously by page administrators, published Sugumar’s submission on Feb. 12. The post asked if there was anything “annoying to deal with the way it is implemented currently” at Concordia.
“I wanted to see if there was anything that could be improved upon,” Sugumar said, referring to the various ways students interact with school administration and student groups on campus.
One of the most “liked” responses to the post suggested the levy fee opt-out process. This led Sugumar to launch an online survey on Feb. 18 seeking input from his peers on the “user experience” of opting out of levy fees at Concordia.
Although some levy fees are mandatory, such as those for faculty student associations, levy fees for student groups or activities are required, under item 17 of Concordia’s Policy on Student Associations and Groups, to have an opt-out mechanism administered by the group. Groups that are funded by a levy fee include the Centre for Gender Advocacy, the Sustainability Action Fund, the Concordia Greenhouse and The Concordian newspaper.
However, the policy document does not prescribe specific rules for how the mechanism should work. The current procedure most groups follow has long been a source of contention for some Concordia students. Students must bring their student I.D. card and student account record to a group’s office on campus during a specific period at the beginning of each semester. This period usually lasts one or two weeks, although each group sets its own time frame. The fee for each group is often less than a few dollars, and students must go to each individual group separately to be refunded.
Sugumar’s survey included questions about how often students opt out of levy fees, whether they would prefer an online opt-out system, and why students opt out of levy fees for certain groups and not others.
Based on the 110 responses Sugumar had received by Feb. 26, he said about 65 per cent of respondents said they don’t opt out because the process is too tedious, and 75 per cent said they would use an online system if it was available. Sixty per cent of respondents said factors that influence their decision to opt out include whether they agree with the group’s mandate, whether they think the group is transparent and how the group spends levy fee money.
In recent years, Spotted: Concordia has become a popular platform for students to criticize the levy fee system. The page has published more than 10 posts criticizing the system since the beginning of the 2017-18 academic year, with some sharing information on how to opt out. Sugumar said he had frequently seen people complain about these fees on the page prior to having his post published.
According to university spokesperson Mary-Jo Barr, the process for opting out is outside of the university’s jurisdiction and, therefore, the university could not comment on the difficulties students experience during the process.
Based on the survey responses, Sugumar said he believes the best way to proceed would be to create a central web page where students can not only opt out of any levy fees, but also read about each group’s mandate and how they spend their levy fee money.
For his part, Sugumar said he feels indifferent about the subject. “At the end of the day, I don’t mind giving a bit if it helps other people’s general student life,” he said.
Graphic by Zeze Le Lin