Concordia Student Union News

CSU opposes Bill 62 and intends to take action

AVEQ condemns religious neutrality law, Concordia admins uncertain of impact on campus

The Concordia Student Union (CSU) condemned Bill 62—a provincial religious neutrality law—in a motion passed at a special council meeting on Thursday, Oct. 19. The law—which was approved by Quebec’s National Assembly on Oct. 18—requires people to uncover their face when receiving public services or working in Quebec’s public sector.

The special council meeting was originally called to hire a new CEO, however, the motion to oppose Bill 62 was presented without warning and voted upon by CSU councillors.

“Our official position is we reject [the bill]. We demand the Quebec government change it because it’s unconstitutional,” said Ahmed Badr, the CSU’s external affairs and mobilization coordinator. He said it conflicts with the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

Section 2a of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms states that everyone is entitled to fundamental freedom of conscience and religion.

“Normally [at] special council meetings, we don’t pass [a motion] unless we give them a notice beforehand, but we didn’t,” Badr said. However, he said the CSU council was supportive of the motion.

According to Badr, now is time for the union to take action. “We will have a petition and we will write letters to the [members of Parliament] who voted for it,” Badr said. “We need Concordia students to sign these letters, and we will send it to the [MPs] telling them that we denounce [the] new law.”

The letters will begin circulating for students to sign as early as Tuesday, Oct. 24, however, Badr said the petition release date is to be determined.

Over the weekend, Badr presented a motion at the Association for the Voice of Education in Quebec (AVEQ) congress for the association to condemn the law.

Following the CSU motion, AVEQ officially opposed the religious neutrality law as well. Sophia Sahrane, the AVEQ coordinator of education and research, said religious neutrality laws infrige on values that AVEQ has endorsed since its establishment. She said the organization takes a feminist, anti-racist and anti-discriminatory position.

Kristen Perry, AVEQ’s coordinator of mobilization and associative development, said the association will be releasing a public statement to announce and clarify their position against Quebec’s new law.

Response from administration

“Bill 62 is such a new law, we don’t even have the final text of the law, and we certainly don’t have any of the government’s requirements yet,” Concordia president Alan Shepard told The Concordian.

The bill applies to provincial public-sector services and provincially funded institutions, such as universities and schools, the CBC reported. According to the same source, Justice Minister Stéphanie Vallée advised that amendments be added to include municipalities, metropolitan communities and public transit organizations in the bill.

Shepard said the university has not been provided any guidelines or explanation of how to interpret or implement the law. He said he is not certain if the religious neutrality law affects Concordia.

“I’m in no rush to implement a law in which I have no regulations,” Shepard said. “So for now, it’s completely status quo—as if the law weren’t there.”

“The niqab is the first step. They will [eventually] move onto every other religious symbol,” said Bara Abuhamed, a Concordia industrial engineering student and former Muslim Student Association (MSA) executive. He said Bill 62 is likely the first step of many, and he wants to stop it before it starts.

Abuhamed said the fact that the bill is officially identified as a religious neutrality law is problematic. “It’s clear discrimination and a move against religious freedom,” he said.

“We’ve welcomed women before some other institutions, we’ve welcomed religious minorities—we’ve welcomed everybody,” Shepard said. “And we fully intend to keep welcoming everybody.”

Photo by Mackenzie Lad 


Unbalancing the budget

Photo by Madelayne Hajek

With four revisions to its operating budget in eight months and little communication from the provincial government, Concordia University is heading for a deficit, all the while waiting to hear about additional funding from the Parti Québécois.

It was revealed Friday during a Senate meeting that confusion and uncertainty have clouded the university’s finances during the entire academic year. Following the PQ’s decision in December to cut universities’ budgets across the province, Concordia lost $13.2 million for the last four months of the year — a slash that runs so deep that the university is now backed into a corner.

President Alan Shepard discussed the issue with Senators, saying that the revision created “so much uncertainty” for Concordia.

“It’s a very difficult time,” said Shepard. “We’re trying to figure out where we could get more money.”

In order to offset the cancellation of the tuition fee increase initially proposed by the Charest Liberals, the PQ was supposed to provide additional university funding. During Senate, Chief Financial Officer Patrick Kelley said that the provincial government has not been forthcoming with information as to when Concordia will be provided with that money.

“It’s absolutely physically impossible to not declare a deficit,” said Kelley. “We will have a deficit.”

During this year alone, the university’s projected funding dropped from $372 million to $359 million by December. The provincial government promised Concordia an additional $3.4 million for the 2012-2013 academic year to compensate for the shortfall they incurred from the freeze implemented in September when the university announced they would refund students the additional tuition they paid.

According to Kelley, the provincial government “categorically refused” to answer when Concordia requested a date for when they would receive the funding.

In the meantime, Interim provost Lisa Ostiguy emphasized that administration will have to cut funding to all sectors and that the university will have to be more careful with its fiscal management.

“We need to be fiscally responsible,” said Ostiguy. “It’s going to be difficult because reductions and changes are shared by all and there is no one sector that will take the hits.”

Ostiguy explained that the larger cuts will affect sectors such as the president’s office and advancement in order to minimize the setback for academics and student services. Furthermore, suggestions about how to use resources more effectively and ideas to “generate official revenue” are also welcomed by the administration.

What concerns the administration now is the lack of directives for the following academic year and if additional cuts will follow. Shepard stressed that while information has not yet come to light regarding potential reductions in the future, Concordia’s administration did ask Premier Pauline Marois if the shortfall in funding was an isolated incident.

“We asked Madame Marois if it was a one-time occurrence,” Shepard said. “And she said to wait until the education summit.”

At the meeting, Shepard urged Senators not to propose a motion to denounce the PQ as he deemed it a “dangerous move” in a time of unpredictability.

Until more is known, Concordia will not declare a budget until March or April for the 2013-2014 academic year that starts on May 1, so that the university does not commit to a budget it may not be able to handle.

The Board of Governors will hold a special meeting Tuesday to discuss declaring a deficit.


Say hello to the ConU bourgeoisie

[singlepic id=195 w=320 h=240 float=right]To the students of Concordia University,

So, the team here at The Concordian was hoping you could buy us a new means of transportation for the office. We’re not asking for much. A top of the line car maybe? It seems unfair now, but later when we’re cruising from Loyola to SGW while you wait for the shuttle bus in the rain, it will seem even more unfair. Let us explain.

Earlier this week, the Journal de Montreal reported that Concordia University is footing the bill for senior Vice-President Bram Freedman’s rental of a Lexus RX 350. As the VP Institutional Relations and Secretary General, Freedman is entitled to his new ride as per his contract.

The article stated that the six senior VPs at the university have access to $900 a month for rental and maintenance of a vehicle of their choice.

University’s spokesperson, Cléa Desjardins, confirmed that the majority of vice-presidents choose to receive this monthly allowance and while some “arrange their lease or car ownership themselves, some choose to have the university lease a vehicle directly.”

So why all the fuss? Well according to Le Journal, the rental contract between the university and the Montreal Lexus dealer rings in at $37,155.22. Once again, the problem lies in the continuing trend of institutional disregard for money management.

Concordia was fined by former Education Minister Line Beauchamp just this spring to the tune of two million dollars for handing out hefty severance packages like they were monogrammed pens. All the while, students protesting against tuition fee increases say they can’t afford to pay a dollar more, let alone another couple hundred dollars.

When is Concordia going to learn its lesson?

This is not a personal criticism of VP Freedman. He is simply taking advantage of the subsidies program available to him. Granted, he took it as far as he could carry it: a Lexus RX 350 rings in at a starting price of $44,950.

Freedman’s expense reports for 2011 also indicate that he charged the university $1,500 for maintenance on his car and another $788.10 in June of that year for insurance on said vehicle.

Why shouldn’t senior administrators be given perks for executing the difficult job of shaking hands and sitting on committees? All teasing aside, there’s nothing wrong with receiving some benefits, but not when they’re used to explain away unnecessarily costly purchases coming from students’ pockets.

Approximately 94 million dollars of Concordia’s overall operating budget in 2011 comes from student tuition fees, with another 272 million from federal and provincial subsidies. Nearly 80 per cent of the university’s revenue comes from public sources, giving them a responsibility to the students and taxpayers who finance them to spend that money prudently. This is a university, not a privately funded for-profit company and that is a fact the Concordia administration needs to wake up to.

As far as we are concerned, any student who pays fees at this educational institution owns a piece of that car, and that is why people should be outraged. If Bram Freedman isn’t giving us a ride to school each morning, why then should we have to pay for his?


Tug of war, Concordia style

Springtime is often associated with the notion of new beginnings and at Concordia, this year will be no exception. Collective agreements for some of the university’s largest unions are expiring and the time has come to head back to the negotiating table. Union contracts may seem a little dry at first glance, but if history is anything to go by, collective bargaining season is going to be anything but.

Concordia’s part-time faculty association (CUPFA) president Maria Peluso calls complicated labour disputes “a chronic pattern at Concordia.”

CUPFA will begin negotiating a new contract with the university in August 2012. Last time their agreement expired, it took seven years to finalize a new collective agreement.

“The delays are unreasonable to achieve any closure or conclusion […] and the lengthy nature of negotiations speaks to whether there is good faith in such protracted negotiations,” Peluso said.

She explained in an email that multiple campus unions complained of similar experiences, such as the university cancelling meetings at the last minute and not being properly prepared.

Extended negotiations between CUPFA and the administration began in 2002 and lasted six years, leading to a costly arbitration and rotating strikes. The conflict went all the way to the Supreme Court of Canada and culminated with judges ruling in CUPFA’s favour in the 2008/2009 academic year.

“What is the point of negotiating a collective agreement that is not sustainable, gets ignored, and then it costs money just to handle all the conflict and grievances?” said Peluso, referring to the extensive legal fees involved in a court case of this level.

Concordia’s full-time faculty association (CUFA) has already begun meeting with administration to develop a new collective agreement. So far things are going smoothly, but union president Lucie Lequin said it hasn’t always been that way. Generally, negotiations last six to eight months—the last time around it took CUFA two-and-a-half years.

“[The negotiator for the administration] showed a lack of organization, lack of good will, and lack of efficiency,” said Lequin. She cited the unpreparedness of the administration’s team as the main reason for the process dragging on for so long.

After two years of waiting, CUFA requested a conciliator to help them come to a solution.

Now facing another round of bargaining, Lequin said she is not hopeful, but would like to see “a real commitment to see negotiations completed in a timely fashion.”

Concordia spokesperson Chris Mota confirmed that CUFA and the administration have already met five times and have a schedule drawn up. “The bottom line is moving forward. The goal is to arrive at a collective agreement as soon as possible,” she said.

Mota did not want to address the past difficulties between the union and administration, calling the discussion “not fruitful.” She said the administrative negotiators are looking to the future.

“Everyone is bargaining in good faith, and fully committed,” said Mota.

Another negotiation worth keeping an eye on is the United Steelworkers local 9538, which has been without a renewed collective agreement for the past five years. Members of the USW walked out Sept.7 to show their dissatisfaction with the administration.

Concordia VP institutional relations Bram Freedman confirmed in a press release that a conciliator has already been appointed by the Quebec Ministry of Labour. Should both parties fail to come to an agreement, USW does have a strike mandate. The USW could not be reached for comment.


Collective Agreement: the contract made between an employer and a union on behalf of all the employees.

Good Faith: legal obligation in collective bargaining in which both parties must try to reach an agreement.

Arbitration: a single arbitrator hears presentations by both sides and then issues a final and binding decision that establishes a new collective agreement.

Conciliation: a form of “outside help” which involves the appointment of a government employee known as a conciliation officer who tries to bring the two parties together.

Grievance: a wrong considered as grounds for complaint launched through official channels.


Newly-appointed treasurer driving force in PepsiCo debacle

The end of last semester saw the creation of an Office of the Treasurer within Concordia University’s administration and the appointment of Marc Gauthier, former executive director of finance and business operations, to the position of university treasurer.

Gauthier was heavily criticized by student groups in 2010 for his role in the renewal of the university’s exclusive food and beverage contract with PepsiCo. This resulted in Concordia student Laura Beach filing a mise en demeure, a notice that a legal challenge could be pursued, against Gauthier along with Johanne De Cubellis, associate director of Hospitality Concordia and Michael Di Grappa, former Concordia VP services and current VP administration and finance at McGill.

Co-founder of TAPthirst, an environmental initiative promoting tap water over bottled, Beach cites a lack of student consultation as the motivation behind her legal warning. She had been in talks with Gauthier and De Cubellis about an alternative option to renewing the PepsiCo contract.

“I gained 35 signatures of faculty members from every faculty on campus as well as hundreds of student signatures towards the negotiation of a more sustainable food and beverage contract,” said Beach, who is now an undergraduate representative on the Board of Governors.

She claims she was promised by Gauthier and De Cubellis in a verbal agreement that no negotiations regarding the food and beverage contract would take place until Beach, representing TAPthirst, the university, and a representative from PepsiCo all sat down.

But things ended up taking a different turn, according to Beach.

“In September it became clear that negotiations had taken place already with PepsiCo. Not only that, but they’d already signed an agreement in principle and they were about to sign a contract,” said Beach.

By October, students began to rally against the proposed contract. A protest was held at Norman Bethune Square and students staged a sit-in at the GM building just outside Hospitality Concordia’s offices. The university went through with the deal regardless, signing the exclusive food and beverage contract with PepsiCo on Oct. 29, Di Grappa’s last day at Concordia before leaving for McGill.

While Beach expressed doubts whether the Office of the Treasurer will have any direct effect on students, she remains concerned given her past experiences.

Sustainable Concordia, an opponent of the signing of the PepsiCo contract in 2010, declined to comment.

The Office of the Treasurer itself is a new concept at Concordia that came as a result of a business management decision. The position of university treasurer was created with the aim of “bringing together different financial projects at the university under a single managerial focus,” said university spokesperson Chris Mota.

In addition to Gauthier, Sara Deschamps, Maryse Picard, and Jean-François Baril will be working in the Office of the Treasurer as administrative assistant, administrator of the benefit portfolio, and corporate risk manager, respectively.

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