Student groups are responding after McGill’s administration announced that it will not be recognizing the results of the Students’ Society of McGill’s (SSMU) fall 2011 referendum because the wording of the questions were “unclear.”
The news incited reactions from the independent student groups who posed the questions: McGill’s campus radio station 90.3 FM CKUT and research group QPIRG-McGill.
Both QPIRG and CKUT posed similarly-worded questions asking students to confirm whether or not they a) support the continued funding of the independent groups and b) agree that the fee opt-out period should be switched from online to in-person.
In both cases the election results revealed that over 60 per cent of students voted “yes” in the referendum, which saw over 5,000 students coming out to vote between Nov. 4 to Nov. 10.
However, after a preliminary meeting with the administration in December, QPIRG and CKUT were notified via email that McGill would not be recognizing the results.
Kira Page, a member of QPIRG’s board of directors, says that by not validating the results, the university is refusing to acknowledge the mandate of McGill’s student body.
“We had over 700 students sign to say that they understood the question and they believe it should go to referendum,” said Page. “It went through all the democratic processes available to us.”
The questions under administrative scrutiny were originally approved by Elections McGill, SSMU’s electoral body. SSMU president Maggie Knight sent a public letter to McGill’s deputy provost (student life and learning) Morton Mendelson asking for an explanation.
“The clarity of the question is primarily a debate between CKUT and QPIRG and McGill,” said Knight in an interview, explaining that the SSMU’s role is to represent its constituents, the undergrad students who voted in the referendum.
“When we see that both questions passed with majority vote, this appears to be the will of the student body so it’s our job to stand up for that,” Knight said.
However, some are siding with the university. According to the McGill Daily, a public hearing regarding a case filed by two students with SSMU’s judicial board asking for the referendum results to be invalidated due to alleged electoral infractions is set for Jan. 30.
McGill requires independent student groups like QPIRG and CKUT to prove that students still back them via “existence questions” in referendums every five years before being able to renew their memorandum of agreement.
By invaliding the referendum results, CKUT board of directors student representative Myriam Zaidi says the station is left scrambling. They need to renew their agreement with the university to secure funding, and the lease for their space is up in May.
“The McGill administration has a lot of power over us and we feel cornered,” said Zaidi.
Both QPIRG and CKUT have until Feb. 5 to submit new, differently-worded questions to SSMU council in time for the spring referendum.
Opt-out a hot issue at McGill
In voting overwhelmingly in favour of CKUT and QPIRG’s referendum questions, students were also agreeing to change the way that the fees that fund these student groups can be refunded.
Students have the option of being refunded for these fees during an opt-out period, which lasts for two weeks at the beginning of the fall semester following the deadline to add or drop courses.
In 2007, McGill moved the process online, allowing students to opt-out of paying these fees with a click of a button. CKUT and QPIRG oppose the change, saying that online opt-outs do not properly inform students about the groups they’re funding. They also argue that the online opt-out hinders their ability to plan their finances and makes it easier for pro opt-out campaigns to influence students to take back their money. They are pushing for the opt-out process to be moved from online to in-person.