Concordia administration plans to disregard some recommendations made by fee-levy groups
Concordia University’s online fee-levy opt-out system is delayed until January 2021, with the administration looking to implement changes that veers away from recommendations made by fee-levy groups, which are student-run organizations funded by the student population at large.
Concordia Student Union (CSU) Student Life Coordinator Eduardo Malorni, who is currently communicating with the administration regarding the new system, told The Concordian two of the six recommendations made by fee-levy groups will not be followed as written, with “four of them being followed more or less.”
Fee-levy organizations are elected by students through a CSU referendum to receive funding from the student population. The organizations provide a variety of different services for students, including food services like free meals and groceries; environmental, gender and advocacy centers; and student media organizations like The Concordian, The Link, and CJLO. They are not clubs, but function independently from the CSU. The majority of groups charge less than $0.40 per credit.
Last year, the CSU held a referendum on the implementation of an online opt-out system. A majority 61.1 per cent of the student population voted in favour of a system that would be “created in consultation with all fee-levy organizations,” according to the “Fee-Levy Consultation Report.” The report was drafted by a CSU committee as per mandated by the referendum.
The fee-levy organizations outlined six recommendations for the online opt-out process.
According to Malorni, the first recommendation rejected by the Concordia administration is that students be required to read comprehensive descriptions of the groups they want to opt out of before being presented with a legal letter describing exactly which services they are agreeing to lose. For example, if a student wants to opt out of paying fees for People’s Potato, they will first need to read a description of its mandate and services, followed by a legal letter confirming the loss of said services, i.e. free meals and emergency food baskets.
“This process will exist for every group in order to give them a fair chance to showcase what they do and provide to the Concordia community,” reads the recommendation in the report.
Instead, the administration plans to implement a system that provides a general legal letter that applies to all fee-levy groups. Malorni said the letter would be presented before students even select which groups they want to opt out of and before they have the chance to read their descriptions.
The second recommendation Concordia University plans not to follow, according to Malorni, is that every fee-levy group description should include “an external link to learn even more about the group.”
“[Concordia] said they did not feel comfortable having links going outside of the Concordia domain,” said Malorni.
The link would only work if the group was on the Concordia University domain. There is no information as of yet if the administration will create or update existing webpages for each fee-levy group on the Concordia website.
According to Malorni, the groups will also have “only a few paragraphs” to describe what their organization does for the Concordia community, rather than the comprehensive descriptions requested by fee-levy groups.
Malorni will bring up these stipulations during a CSU council meeting next Wednesday, in which it will be determined whether “council still feels comfortable moving forward … knowing that the recommendations they specified aren’t 100 per cent being followed.”
Malorni told The Concordian the next CSU council meeting will be on Sept. 16. Fee-levy group members are encouraged to come to the council meeting to discuss their concerns.
A controversial process
The former General Coordinator Christopher Kalafatidis ran for CSU council on the “Cut the Crap” slate that included the online fee-levy opt-out system in 2019.
The “Fee Levy Consultation Report” was presented by Kalafatidis, who was now a councillor, in a CSU council meeting on June 10. A majority voted to have the university’s administration develop the online opt-out system.
Several fee-levy groups said they felt the consultation process with the CSU was insufficient.
Emma Campbell, Internal Coordinator of the Concordia Food Coalition, expressed concern about a system that does not provide sufficient information about what fee-levy organizations do.
“Ethical responsibility towards other students may be removed if students are able to go in and click all of the fee-levies that they want to be removed from without necessarily knowing what the fee-levies do or how this will impact other students,” Campbell said, citing the weekly emergency food baskets provided to Concordia students by groups such as the Concordia Food Coalition, Frigo Vert, and People’s Potato.
“I also fully understand students who are extremely financially strapped and who need to opt out for these very real and personal reasons that affect many disadvantaged students,” added Campbell.
In May, CSU councillor Margot Berner received a slew of documents revealing Kalafatidis had begun the opt-out system with the administration long before he consulted with fee-levy groups.
Berner accused Kalafatidis of not doing enough to include the input of fee-levy groups.
“I think that the content of those emails showed that the fee-levies were not as involved in the process as establishing online opt-out as Chris was leading everyone to believe,” said Berner. “I think it was a failure to do the work that he was mandated to do.”
Kalafatidis said he was only having conversations with the university because he claims the administration “might have gone ahead and created the system without my input.” He added that he gave the fee levy groups “weeks” to fulfill the consultation process, which took the form of a CSU survey distributed via Google Docs.
“I think there was more than enough input. We created, I think it was a 40-60 page document, containing the input of every fee-levy group that contacted the CSU,” said Kalafaditis on whether he sufficiently consulted the fee-levies. The “Fee Levy Consultation Report” was 44 pages.
“We actually used the feedback to heavily modify the online opt-out system proposal,” said Kalafaditis.
Francella Fiallos, station manager at CJLO, Concordia University’s campus radio station, said she was disappointed with the consultation process.
“They had a detailed plan as to how the online opt-out process would look well before fee-levy groups were even talked to, so it just showed that the consultation was not even going to be respected,” said Fiallos on the documents Berner brought to light.
“We submitted our concerns of having a formal consultation process replaced by a Google Doc,” Fiallos continued. “That report kind of doesn’t really have an accurate comprehensive view of how fee-levy groups feel.”
For the fall, fee-levy organizations have agreed to implement the same opt-out procedure they had during the summer, which required students to contact the groups they wish to opt out of directly.