Fees, Facebook blamed for “no” votes

UTMSU saw the defeat of its Student Centre expansion referendum last week, according to official results revealed to the Medium.

In a close count, 1,621 ballots—approximately 50.7% of total votes—struck down the motion that would see an increase of $37.50 per session in students’ overall tuition. On the “yes” side were 1,551 votes, accounting for approximately 48.5% of the total votes.

“The outcome is clear that students don’t want an expanded Student Centre,” said UTMSU president Raymond Noronha in an interview.

Noronha said part of the reason he feels the referendum failed was that students didn’t want to pay the extra $37.50 per semester. He said students wanted UTMSU to negotiate with the UTM administration for a better deal than the dollar-per-dollar match.

Noronha confirmed that UTMSU will meet with principal Deep Saini, dean of student affairs Mark Overton, and chief administrative officer Paul Donoghue “as soon as possible” to discuss increasing the administration’s contribution to the expansion.

Noronha was unable to comment on whether UTMSU will hold another referendum in the future.

“I think the fact that students feel that the Student Centre doesn’t need an expansion tells us more about the condition of the student life at UTM right now,” said UTM student Vincentia Kumala.

Another student, Shivani Maharaj, added that “maybe a lot of students don’t think that the Student Centre is important because they’re so busy with the academic aspect of school life. I’m not [at the Student Centre] as often as I probably could be, because I’m often concerned about getting home after class.”

Maharaj also felt that the referendum failed because of comments on Facebook by people who he felt hadn’t performed adequate research about it. Students complained about the insufficient study space in the library as a greater priority than the Student Centre, though a library expansion is outside of UTMSU’s jurisdiction.

“One of the big concerns was that there’s not enough study space on campus and [students] were saying ‘Why not expand the library?’ ”, Campbell said.

Another reason for the failure, according to Noronha, was the existence of “rumours” about the fee increase. He said students thought that the expansion would result in a $50 increase per semester, when in fact it was an increase of $37.50, amounting to a total of $50 to be paid per semester.

“Moving forward, we can do a better job in terms of […] making them understand the essence of the fee structure and how it [works],” he said, adding that perhaps making it more simple would help avoid confusion.

He also asserted that some students believed that the funding would be used only to benefit the students’ union.

“When there are myths and rumours about […] this fee increase expanding the UTMSU office itself, getting better equipment, better furniture for the executives, or this is going to translate into higher salary for the executives, well, that’s not true. That’s not something the expansion was meant for and that’s definitely something that was in the mind of people that voted, because I have heard those comments myself, so hopefully we can dispel those myths by doing better outreach in future years,” he said.

Noronha also mentioned that the student feedback received at the time of the referendum had better informed UTMSU about students’ priorities, including the need for increased study space. He said that starting this week, UTMSU would make efforts to reach out to students to ask what they thought about the referendum and to find out how to better address their needs.

This referendum followed on the heels of another on identical terms last year, which was passed by a majority of students but was declared invalid because UTMSU had used the wrong voter list.

According to the official results, 3,195 votes were cast in this year’s referendum, representing approximately 24.8% of UTM’s student population. This represents an increase of 7%, or about 900 students, in turnout over last year.

This infographic is still up on the elaborate website that UTMSU made for the expansion campaign.
This infographic is still up on the elaborate website that UTMSU made for the expansion campaign.

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