Clarification on student referendum

Published: 8 February 2012

Dear Students, Staff, and Faculty Members of the McGill University Community,

One of the issues being discussed on campus recently is the results of last November's referendum regarding radio station CKUT and the Quebec Public Interest Research Group (QPIRG). Some members of the community have asked why the administration is refusing to recognize these results, and the protestors occupying the James Building have demanded that the administration reverse its decision.

I would like to explain the rationale for the decision, as well as where we stand in resolving the situation. I would also like to point out that the University, CKUT and QPIRG were discussing a solution to the problem before the occupation took place.

Every five years, before renewing the Memorandum of Agreement with CKUT and QPIRG, the University asks these groups to hold a referendum to ensure current students support their continued existence. SSMU conducts this referendum on behalf of CKUT and QPIRG. Last November, McGill students voted on their support for the continued existence of these groups as well as the way students can opt out of supporting these groups.

In the past, if students wanted to opt out of a fee for a given activity, they had to show up in person at the group’s office to have the fee refunded. In consultation with students, an easy-to-use on-line system was introduced for opting out of voluntary fees, a system that also protects students’ privacy. Students can now view their accounts, choose the optional fees they wish not to pay, and have the rebate calculated prior to settling their bills. We believe this process is more convenient for students. It is also part of our drive to find more efficient processes so that we spend less on administration and more on teaching, research and community service. However, this also means that more students are likely to opt out, which means that student funding has been reduced for some student groups and for initiatives such as the library fund.

Here is the text of the November referendum question for CKUT; the QPIRG question used similar language:

Do you support CKUT continuing as a recognized student activity supported by a fee of $4.00 per semester for full-time  undergraduate students, which is not opt-outable on the Minerva online opt-out system but is directly refundable through CKUT, with the understanding that a majority “no” vote will result in the termination of all  undergraduate funding to CKUT?

Thus, the question for each group asked two things at once:

1) Do you support the existence of the organization?

2) Do you support going back to back to the old system – to have the fee be “directly refundable” to the student from the organization (in person) and thus remove the option to opt-out online?

The Office of the Deputy Provost communicated with these groups in the fall before the referendum was held about the need to use the online opt-in system and to make the questions clear. Unfortunately, CKUT and QPIRG used the wording above.

We respect the rights of students to support groups of their choosing. However, individual student groups do not have the right to change an opt-out system to a method less convenient for all students.

Discussions with these groups have continued, and are on-going. The administration and CKUT agreed in principle on Tuesday morning that the University will recognize the results of the referendum as student support for the continuing existence of CKUT. CKUT has agreed to conduct another referendum regarding their fees. Talks are still underway with QPIRG.

The occupiers have as well asked for the resignation of the Deputy Provost, Student Life and Learning. Prof. Mendelson has been a tireless advocate for student life and learning. He has brought together a wonderful team of dedicated professionals to improve services to students, and works with associate deans in all Faculties to coordinate activities and share best practices. Every day he continues to make significant contributions.

With best regards,

Prof. Anthony C. Masi

Provost, McGill University



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