On May 16th, 2013, McMaster Association of Part-Time Students President Andrew Smith received a letter from McMaster University Provost and Vice-President (Academic) Dr. David Wilkinson informing him that the University Administration would be recommending to the University’s Board of Governors to suspend the collection of MAPS student fees for the 2013-2014 academic year. On Monday, June 3, just three days before the Board was scheduled to meet, an agenda including the motion to suspend MAPS student fee collection was made public. The motion, which was passed, read as follows:

The Finance Committee recommends:

3. that the Board of Governors endorse the decision of the Administration to suspend the collection of fees on behalf of the McMaster Association of Part-time Students, until such times as the Administration decides otherwise.

OUSA has a number of serious concerns regarding the process undertaken by the University to suspend the collection of the MAPS student fee. Most concerning is the fact that the decision to suspend the collection of these student fees was motioned and passed by members of the University Administration, rather than by the actual student membership of MAPS. This sets a dangerous precedent in which an institution has chosen to withhold fees independently of student input or support. As an organization committed to the autonomy of Ontario’s student unions, we believe that any decision to suspend student fee collection must come from students themselves, rather than be unilaterally imposed on a student union by members of university administration.

OUSA is also concerned with the lack of notice provided to students regarding this motion, as well as the actual timing of the Board of Governors meeting itself. The McMaster Board of Governors did not make the agenda for the June 6th meeting available public ally until three days prior, leaving little time for any students opposed to this motion to respond. Similarly, students are troubled by the timing of this meeting, as it was conducted at a time of the year in which most students were not present on campus and were therefore less likely to be aware of the motion.

Although the motion to suspend the collection of MAPS student fees was passed, students are happy to see that the suspension of the fee collection is temporary, as per an article that appeared in the Hamilton Spectator last Thursday. OUSA understands that McMaster administration has outlined a number of criteria to MAPS detailing what is required of them before the University is willing to restore student fee funding. Students believe that the University must provide the new MAPS Board a reasonable amount of time to meet these requirements and that these requirements should not be subject to change. OUSA hopes that the University will follow through on its commitment to restore funding to MAPS once the organization and its new board have addressed the Administration’s concerns.

It is important to recognize that although temporary, the suspension of this student fee will inevitably impact the university experience of MAPS students. Although the MAPS board is currently undertaking a significant restructuring, the loss of this student fee will severely limit the quality and number of services MAPS is able to provide to its students come September. Students hope that this issue will be resolved expeditiously and that MAPS is once again able to provide its membership with valuable student services and support.

MAPS students represent a very unique and important voice within Ontario’s higher education sector. Part-time students are more likely to be mature students, have dependents, and work full-time while completing their studies. MAPS members have been instrumental in the development of OUSA policies aimed at addressing the needs of each of these aforementioned groups and we look forward to their continued support in developing these policies in the future.

In 2011, a bill co-sponsored by Minister Yasir Naqvi of the Ontario Liberal Party and MPP Rosario Marchese of the Ontario NDP received a first reading in the legislature. This private-member’s bill would have enshrined in law the university’s responsibility to collect fees on behalf of student organizations, as well as the student union’s responsibility to adhere to principles of good governance. Unfortunately, the act has yet to be returned to the legislative calendar in this session.

The situation currently unfolding at McMaster highlights the necessity of such a law. Though McMaster’s stated intention is to protect part-time students, the precedent of a university withholding fees from a student organization is concerning to many. Student governments are frequent critics of their host administrations, often advocating for divergent policy solutions to issues facing post-secondary education. No OUSA member would argue that student organizations should be able to act unaccountably without repercussion, but the current system places the university as both judge and jury of student union actions. A simple decision at a university board meeting, a simple decision by the Cabinet of Ontario to change Ontario’s ancillary fee protocol could end student organizations as we know them.

Given the inevitable conflicts and co-dependency that arises between student organizations, governments and universities, clear rules are a necessity. OUSA strongly urges members of the Ontario Legislature to bring back 2011’s Bill 184.