The UTM Students’ Union is holding a referendum on fee increases that would see the levy rise to $50 per semester for up to three years to cover the costs of expanding the Student Centre.
After gathering feedback, the executive team decided to run the referendum to replace one with the same terms that was passed last year but failed ratification due to human error.
Full-time undergraduate UTM students and Faculty of Medicine students will have a chance to vote for or against the question from January 28 to 30 after a campaign period this week.
TEMPORARY FEE INCREASE
The first proposed increase is $27 per semester for a maximum of three years in order to raise $2 million for the actual construction costs of the expansion. The university has promised it will match a student contribution dollar for dollar up to a maximum of $2 million, if a student commitment is demonstrated, up to a maximum of $4 million towards the expansion.
In an interview with the Medium, Raymond Noronha, president of UTMSU, explained that the student contribution had been capped at $2 million in order to maximize the ratio of university contribution to student contribution.
“If we were to collect $4 million from students and the university pitched in $2 million, it would be fifty cents to a dollar,” he said.
Because the total collection from students will not be allowed to exceed $2 million, the duration of the increase could be reduced if enrolment increases.
The duration could also be lowered if outside sponsors were found. Because the Student Centre is the property of the university, the Office of Advancement could put in a request to add the expansion to their list of donor projects. UTMSU cannot approach donors directly.
According to Noronha, the university has told UTMSU that its contribution of $2 million depends on students demonstrating their commitment through a referendum.
PERMANENT FEE INCREASE
The second proposed increase is $10.50 per semester indefinitely as part of the Student Centre levy, in order to cover new operating costs associated with the expansion and to provide a reserve for maintenance expenses, according to Noronha.
Full-time students currently pay $12.50 per semester to the levy. These proposed fees yields a total of $50 per semester to UTMSU beginning next fall for a maximum of three years, down to $23 per semester after the $2 million is raised.
Noronha said that even in the existing Student Centre, costly unexpected maintenance would not be affordable within the means UTMSU currently receives.
IF IT PASSES
Of the nearly 13,000 students currently enrolled at UTM, a minimum of 5% are required to vote in order for the referendum to be valid.
If a majority of voters are for the question, work could begin in the summer, including the search for an architect, according to Noronha.
According to Noronha, the same money is worth less every year because of the inflation on construction costs, so not everything originally promised will fit into the budget as more time passes.
The priorities for expansion include multipurpose rooms and club and society offices, said Noronha. At present, clubs and societies are allotted office space by UTMSU’s Clubs Committee based on their activity on campus. The offices are often shared by two or three clubs, and some clubs do not have office space.
Noronha identified improving food and services as essential steps to making the Student Centre more of a “hub” of student activity, and said that the Blind Duck’s kitchens will also be expanded and InfoBooth services added.
“Once we have an expanded Blind Duck Pub, we will be able to cater to those needs for healthier, possibly cheaper food options, and also more diversity,” he said.
Noronha could not specify which services might be added but said he will be looking at other universities and their student unions as models.
THE FIRST REFERENDUM
This referendum has been expected for the past year as a replacement for the identical one held last year, whose unofficial results were not ratified by UTMSU’s Elections and Referenda Committee.
Some 18% of UTM students voted in the referendum, of whom about 60% voted in favour of the fee increases and the expansion.
However, human error that the union attributed to then-chief returning officer Babatumi Sodade, who resigned over the incident, resulted in a decision not to ratify the results.
UTMSU had been provided on a T-Card scanner loaded with the voter list for the U of T Students’ Union’s annual general meeting that November, and the list included St. George students, who were not eligible to vote because they are not members of UTMSU.
Jill Matus, U of T’s vice-provost of students, alleged that UTSU had breached confidentiality agreements by supplying this scanner to UTMSU, which UTSU denies having done. Matus’s office had made a CD with the correct list available to UTMSU, but it was never retrieved.
Because it was not possible to sort through the data, the referendum would not have been ratified by higher university bodies, said Noronha, who promised more care this time around.
“We’re making sure that there is no confusion between UTMSU and the offices downtown at U of T, and that we get the most accurate and recent voter list,” he said. “It’s frustrating for students as well.”
Noronha was concerned that students were not aware of the results of the first referendum and would be confused about its appearing again this year.
When deciding whether to rerun the referendum, which he declined to use as a platform point in last year’s election, Noronha solicited feedback from students.
As the major beneficiaries of the Student Centre, said Noronha, club and society executives were mainly in favour of the expansion and associated fee increases.
“There’s always that small proportion of students that will be against the idea of a Student Centre expansion because they are against any kind of fee increase, and they just don’t use the premises, period […],” said Noronha. “There was definitely a large chunk of students that I spoke to who were looking forward to the expanded Student Centre.”
The current Student Centre was built in 1999 for a student population of about 6,000, less than half of the current enrolment.
UTMSU has been in talks with the university for an expansion since 2007 and has submitted multiple proposals, one of which was approved in August 2012.