Referendum season is in full swing at Brock University, and on Monday October 21 on the 13th floor of the Schmon Tower, two out of the four referendums proposed were hashed out in a one-hour debate. To recap, the questions of this season’s referendums are as follows:
1. Do you support the removal of the $20 per credit Student Lift Fee effective May 2014?
2. Do you support the continuation of a $0.85 per credit fee to fund a BUSU operated Student Justice Centre on campus, as per the memorandum of understanding?
3. Do you support the amendment to the Brock University Student’s Union Constitution, as presented in the memorandum of understanding?
4. Do you support the removal of the $1.50 per credit fee for Brock University Student Radio (103.7 FM) effective May 2014?
At Monday’s debate, neither the ‘Yes’ or ‘No’ sides were present for the student radio question.
Let’s begin with the Student Justice Centre: as there is no current ‘No’ side, the only representation comes from the ‘Yes’ side. It should also be understood that this referendum question was not proposed, but rather is a standard procedure as per their memorandum of understanding (MOU). The ‘Yes’ side urges students to vote to keep the fee so that the SJC can continue to provide support to students and strive to eliminate injustices on campus. Their platform discusses a minimum cost to student’s expenses while continuing to provide for the community.
The updates to constitution are extensive in detail but in summary are as follows. The first measure has to do with increasing the minimum number of student signatures required to initiate a referendum from two to seven per cent , thus increasing quorum (the number of student votes). The next mandates a one year waiting period before a failed referendum can be resubmitted. Further changes to the constitution include requiring that a referendum’s MOU must contain a detailed per-credit-cost breakdown of any fees associated with that referendum, to remove the BUSU executive position “Vice President, University Affairs” and to clarify and define the role of committees in Brock University Students Administrative Council (BUSAC). This way, the students who take on the job have a way to resign or to be removed and finally allow Student-At-Large members to be removed from the Board of Directors by a two-thirds majority BUSAC vote.
Christopher Yendt, Vice-President Finance and Administration, explained that voting ‘Yes’ to these constitutional changes ensures more accountability within BUSU and BUSAC as it will highlight sustainability and transparency within the committees.
However, the biggest debate that took place occurred over the removal of the Student Life Fee. Last semester, a referendum was posed that asked students if they supported a $20 per credit fee that goes to recreation services, free Zone membership and new mental health initiatives. Student Anthony Deeb started an independent student petition to recall the fee that is, citing several reasons, one being that the referendum took place during an extremely busy time and at a very fast pace, so students may not have made an informed vote, especially if only approximately 28 per cent of the student population actually voted.
“Student-based questions face a challenge like no other, because of decisions we make today effect tomorrow. In order for students to do they, have to be informed, and then reinformed. This is the only way to make a decision that is worthwhile and can serve the greater good” said Deeb in his opening statement.
The ‘No’ side was represented by Talal-Azmat Chaudhry, who believes the SLF enables students to get the support they need from their community and find their own path that enables them to become part of their own journey at Brock. Chaudhry related the fee to the same one students pay for a bus pass, where most first years don’t use a bus pass in that there are students who drive and have to purchase parking pass, yet still have to pay for the buses. However, the payment aids the community as a whole and Brock students are able to benefit from seemingly free transit, he argued.
As a result of the 24 per cent vote, 54.5% of students were in favour while 45.5% against it. As a result of the fee, The Zone is now accessible to all students with added fitness classes and machines. Furthermore, a full-time psychologist was hired to serve the student population and students now have access to attend varsity games.
Chaudhry explained what has come about since the addition of the fee, which included the increase of the Brock Men’s Hockey team game attendance, as five packed bus loads transported Badgers to the game. He also noted the increased volume of up to 1,200 students at the Zone as well as a 54% increase of students utilizing the psychologist on campus. The SLF has also resulted in the implementation of the 24-hour study space in plaza.
Deeb argued that not all students use all of the services that the fee offers, so the additional money is irrelevant to their university experience. He further argued that an increase of students using the Zone can decrease the ability to have a successful work out, and noted that several students have expressed intent about seeking a membership elsewhere.
Closing statements were filled with strong words from both sides. Deeb argued “I’ve never said that these activities shouldn’t be encouraged, it’s just unfortunate that in order to do this fee, students are forced to pay for certain services they may not feel as beneficial.” He further argued against the ‘omnibus’ approach, which combines many different initiatives altogether.”There are several students who might just want to focus on one aspect, not another, if you want to support one issue you are forced to support another, and I don’t feel that is right,” said Deeb.
Chaudry responded that, “the fees that have been added on to tuition enhance the Badger experience. It’s an avenue to get involved and students can see what recreation services, health services and The Zone can offer to students to help them live healthy, active lifestyles.”
Both sides to expressed how important voting is this season for students. The outcome of these referendums will undoubtedly impact the student body and the opportunities provided to students for future years. All campaigns will have tables in Academic South this week, where students can learn, ask questions and take steps to making an informed vote. Students can also visit busu.net/elections to see platforms. Voting will take place via Brock student e-mail accounts this Tuesday-Thursday of this week, and the reveal will take place around 9:30 p.m. on Thursday.