On November 2011, the Students Society of McGill University (SSMU) conducted a student referendum confirming McGill students’ support for campus-community radio station CKUT and the Quebec Public Interest Research Group (QPIRG). Over 5200 students voted, with 72% and 65%, respectively, voting in favour of continuing support to CKUT and QPIRG through the renewal of an undergraduate student fee levy ($4.00 for CKUT and $3.25 for QPIRG). The referendum also recognises the organisations’ call for a shift from online to an in-person opt-out system. The referendum question met the standards of Elections McGill, in addition to gaining the approval of the SSMU Council.
On January 2011, the McGill Administration presented a joint letter to CKUT and QPIRG McGill announcing that they would refuse the aforementioned referendum results. Here is the text of the November referendum for CKUT (QPIRG used a similar question):
"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."
The McGill Administration defended its unilateral decision to overrule this democratic process by claiming that the referendum question lacked clarity. The Adminstration has also claimed that the inclusion of two components in the question was confusing to students. Is the McGill Administration suggesting that McGill’s undergraduate student body is not capable of understanding the nuances and ramifications of this question? This kind of rhetoric suggests their severe lack of confidence in students’ ability to handle student-related affairs.
It would appear that the Administration’s focus of contestation is the opt-out option. McGill Provost and Professor Anthony C. Masi has suggested that the administration would not be bound by a referendum question concerning the method of opting out. In an e-mail sent to McGill staff and students on February 8, 2012, Dr. Masi stated, "Individual student groups do not have the right to change an opt-out system to a method less convenient for all students." An in-person opt-out policy is crucial to the financial survival of CKUT and QPIRG and, more importantly, allows students to make a better-informed decision during the opt-out period. In addition, allowing the provision of an in-person opt-out system for students would be a more equitable decision, especially considering that the student levy for student athletics is much higher (at $115) and does not even give students the opportunity to opt-out.
We believe that the McGill Administration is blocking the passing of the student referendum results in order to retain the power to decide which student organizations and initiatives are subjected to the online opt-out system. We believe this goes against the foundational democratic principles that we are supposed to learn or have learned at university. We assert that the jurisdiction for deciding the fate of student levies should be controlled by students themselves, rather than being controlled by the Administration. Consequently, we believe that SSMU has the right to be the governing body that controls the method of administering student fee levies.
This petition calls on the McGill Board of Governors and Administration to respect the democratic rights of its students. The unilateral decision by the Administration to determine the fate of student-directed funds is extremely troubling, especially in light of events on November 10. 2011, when, following a province-wide protest against tuition hikes, hundreds of riot police were called onto the McGill campus to quell student occupations and protests. These events occurred during a MUNACA labour strike, which created a hostile environment between the administration and its workers and students. Ignoring the democratic rights of students severely undermines the central purpose of post-secondary education and will result in McGill University tarnishing its international reputation.
We, the undersigned, are petitioning McGill University to recognize the SSMU student referendum results, which support the existence of CKUT and QPIRG and affirm their right to implement an in-person opt-out system.
The Quebec Public Interest Research Group at McGill is a non-profit, student-run organization that conducts research, education, and action on environmental and social justice issues at McGill University and in the Montreal community. With such a broad mandate, QPIRG brings together a wide range of students and activists interested in many different issues. http://qpirgmcgill.org/
CKUT is a not-for--profit, campus-community radio station based at McGill University. CKUT provides alternative music, news, and spoken word programming to the city of Montreal and surrounding areas 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. http://ckut.ca/