Dear Members of the Assembly,
After meeting in good will with the SRA Standing Committee on Finance on numerous occasions to discuss revisions to Bylaw 5, OPIRG McMaster remains firm in asserting that the amendment to Bylaw 5 is unnecessary. Our conclusions are based on the following points:
- The SRA Standing Committee on Finance has no jurisdiction over Independent Student Organizations.
- The bylaw is redundant in terms of OPIRG McMaster’s financial accountability & transparency.
- The bylaw will undermine the freedom of OPIRG to act in the public interest as an Independent Student Organization on campus and in the community.
The mandate of the SRA Standing Committee on Finance is to “review and provide recommendations to the SRA, Executive Board or the VP (Finance) on MSU financial policies”. This mandate is taken from the MSU website (https://www.msumcmaster.ca/governance/sra/sra-standing-committees/finance-committee). Because of this clear but limited mandate, it is not apparent how the Standing Committee on Finance can extend its jurisdiction to Independent Student Groups on Campus. In addition, under section 3.1, the VP Finance has been tasked to monitor financial documents of all Independent student groups. This should raise a red flag, as under the MSU Constitution, Section IV. Administration. C. Officers (VP Finance), outline of duties, there is no mention of monitoring of Independent Student Groups on campus. These two issues mentioned above would in fact mean that the VP Finance and the Standing committee on Finance have in fact over-stepped their jurisdictional boundaries, and appear to violate the MSU constitution in amending Bylaw 5.
Redundant Bylaw on Financial Accountability and Transparency
The amendments to Bylaw 5 are arbitrary and at best redundant. The Standing Committee has failed to explain why Independent Student Organizations on campus that have been accountable and transparent to students and the university should double and in some cases triple their reporting mechanisms and then possibly face a threat of a referendum.
Secondly the VP Finance and the Standing Committee on Finance have failed to inform the SRA about policies and structures that are in place at the university to ensure that all independent student groups on campus, including the MSU, are accountable and transparent. The policy that we are referring to is the “Financial Accountability Policy for Student Organizations that receive Fee Remittances from the University” (http://www.mcmaster.ca/bms/pdf/stu_org.pdf)
You will notice that in the above-mentioned policy the term Independent Student Organization is used to describe groups such as OPIRG McMaster and the MSU. It is pertinent to see that all these groups are to be accountable to the university and their constituencies. In light of this policy, OPIRG McMaster believes for the past 18 years we have gone above and beyond the requirements to the university and to the students who constitute our membership, thus, enacting this bylaw would ultimately be redundant.
Student Politics and Independent Student Organizations
In the revised bylaw, section 3 states:
We believe if the Standing Committee on Finance is serious about accountability and transparency the term “appropriately” should be defined explicitly and not left to arbitrary and potentially malicious conclusions.
Points of Clarification/Understanding
1. Independent Student Organizations: independent, self-governed student organizations (includes student societies and/or student governments) that represent and are accountable to specific constituencies. Membership in the organizations is automatic with registration and membership fees are compulsory. Furthermore, OPIRG McMaster is the only independent student organization that allows students to reclaim membership fees.
2. Compulsory Ancillary Fees: shall mean a fee imposed or administered by McMaster or one of its constituent parts or its federated or affiliated institution in addition to regular tuition fees, which a student is required to pay in order to enroll or successfully complete any credit course. Compulsory Ancillary Fees shall not mean existing or future fees established by the MSU or other student organizations.
Based on this definition, which was retrieved from the Compulsory Ancillary Fees Agreement between the MSU and the University, one can see that the OPIRG Fee is not classified as a Compulsory Ancillary Fee. It is rather classified as a Miscellaneous Fee as seen here: http://www.mcmaster.ca/bms/pdf/misc_fees13-14.pdf
Response to Potential Points of Confusion and Misconceptions contained in the “Memo From the Office of the Financial Commissioner”
Point 1. This Bylaw Change is illegal and the MSU has no right to govern Independent Student Organizations.
It is true that OPIRG was established via the General Assembly in 1995. What the Standing Committee has failed to let you know is the terms under which OPIRG was established. The motion that was carried at the General Assembly reads:
OPIRG FEE (March 7 & 8, 1995)
If created, a chapter of the Ontario Public Interest Research Group at McMaster University (OPIRG McMASTER) will operate autonomously as a student-funded, student-directed research, education and action organization.
The creation of OPIRG-McMaster will require the addition of a fee of $5.50 to the full-time students (those taking 18 units or more) ancillary fee statement, beginning with the September 1995 school year.
The fees collected for OPIRG-McMaster will be transferred directly to OPIRG-McMaster. Any student who does not wish to support OPIRG-McMaster shall have a well-publicized opportunity to obtain a refund directly from OPIRG-McMaster.
The introduction of this bylaw is violating the terms of the agreement as established between OPIRG McMaster and its constituents, the student body; thereby making this bylaw illegal.
Point 5. This Bylaw is very vague –why?
To have a bylaw that can be interpreted in many ways really undermines the spirit of accountability and transparency. To this end we believe the “Financial Accountability Policy for Student Organizations that receive Fee Remittances from the University” is a non-biased policy that holds all independent student groups on campus accountable and transparent. Moreover, it addresses the variety of independent student groups on campus in a specific manner that differentiates the needs and capacities of the various groups. Let us not forget that OPIRG McMaster also has its Board of Directors, Constitution, Bylaws, Policies and Annual General Meeting to ensure we are accountable to our members.
OPIRG McMaster would like to thank the Standing Committee on Finance for its work, but we strongly disagree with the amendment of Bylaw 5. We have stated valuable reasons as to why every SRA member should be concerned. The OPIRG Board is more than happy to answer any questions you might have.
OPIRG McMaster would like to remain in good standing with the MSU and SRA and would be happy to have the opportunity to present our work at the General Assembly or by invitation at the SRA on a yearly basis.