February 9, 2016
By: Kanivanan Chinniah, Kyle Beaudry, and Sarah Letersky
In all our years at Queen’s, we never thought we would see the student newspaper call for its student government to listen less to students. Their strong call for the reinstatement of approving student activity fees through the Annual General Meeting due to the defeated fee increase for the Queen’s Student Constables implies just that.
The responsibility for the failed fee increase lies with the three of us as the AMS Executive. The entire Student Constable management team made an exceptional case for the fee increase, a fee increase that would not just cover increased costs, but also reduce prices for clubs and faculty societies when booking student constables.
We certainly made mistakes during this referendum period that failed to deliver that message and we accept that. We will review the mistakes made this campaign, and we’re confident that a new proposal will be presented next year.
No organization knows this better than MUSE Magazine. This year, they successfully re-established their fee after losing it in 2013, 2014, and 2015. In 2015, then Editor-in-Chief said that “without our opt-out fees, there is no doubt that the next few months will prove extremely challenging, but we have full faith that our team will pull through to create an even stronger campaign next year”. We must approach this setback with an attitude that is just as productive and positive, not one that calls for changes to the rules.
Let’s be clear about this fact: the Journal wants us to reinstate the practice where fees would be confirmed at the Annual General Meeting — an event that has reached quorum once in the last decade. Since we’ve arrived at Queen’s, seven fees have bypassed referendum with the Annual General Meeting. Six of which have been AMS fees. The Journal — ostensibly our student newspaper — wants your student government to consult less students, because consulting 17,000 students rather than 70 leads to a less certain outcome.
When the Journal endorsed Team CBW around this time last year, they said we had “yet to determine specific methods for garnering student opinion”. They were right. Throughout this year, we learned that seeking student opinion is more than just a buzzword, it’s a prerequisite to any standing afforded to the AMS. We are only taken seriously when we speak for our students, and we are dismissed when our partners sense that we are out of touch with student needs.
Bypassing a referendum through the Annual General Meeting isn’t only wrong, it distances us from the students who pay our salaries, and who we’re supposed to serve. That distance has real risk to cause long-term harm to the advocacy that the AMS engages in, by harming our standing with students.
We need to change these attitudes towards student money, and ensuring that AMS Executives seek explicit student consent for fees is a solid first step towards this.
Running a referendum campaign isn’t easy, nor should it be. But it’s a fair price to pay in order to have students (no pun intended) buy-in to our programs and services. Students should tell the AMS how they want their money spent. It should never be the other way around.
Sometimes democracy teaches hard lessons, sometimes we don’t always get our way. That does not give us the right to rig the rules of the game.
Alma Mater Society of Queen's University
L’Université Queen’s est située sur les terres traditionnelles des peuples Haudenosaunee et Anishinaabe.