Sifting through the spin

Scott Hastie
March 2, 2017
This article was published more than 2 years ago.
Est. Reading Time: 3 minutes

Students will be heading back to the polls for Student Representative Assembly elections, and for the third time this year, they will be met with a referendum question.

The Pulse expansion and Student Activity Building are back on the ballot because the university has committed to spend $10 million on the project.

Via email, dean of students Sean Van Koughnett explained that the funding is coming from money that “exist[s] for strategic priorities.” Originally, the university was spending $1.1 million per year for the operating costs of the building.

Provost and vice-president (Academic) David Wilkinson wrote a memo to the SRA about the increased funding. There are a few parts that have me scratching my head.

Wilkinson writes “[w]e also understand from student feedback that cost is a concern.”

Uh, yeah. Cost is at the heart of every student issue because post-secondary costs continue to rise and employment prospects are only getting worse for many students. The university obviously knows this because it has been a talking point for at least the six years I have been at Mac.

It is disingenuous for them to issue this memo because they had to know that the doubling of a fee is going to be the reason this project doesn’t happen.

McMaster students have voted down cost increases when given the chance in recent years.

The memo also states “the results of the failed referendum points to strong student support for space expansion.”

The need for more space has been documented for years, and for the university to pretend that this referendum result does more to cement that is an insult to both research done by the university and students who took the time to submit feedback.

As we wrote in a news piece in the Feb. 2 issue, a 2011 campus capacity study cited data from 2008-2009 that classified the need for more student “lounge and service space” as a top-five priority.

According to the presentation made to the SRA in Nov. 2016, 80 per cent of students identified student space as their top priority.

That number comes from a 2015 McMaster Students Union space survey. 90 per cent of students identified unprogrammed space in their “top ten student space wishlist” in student focus groups run by the MSU in 2016. The McMaster University Student Affairs logo is on the front of this presentation, so they know about these numbers.

The optics are not good. In the span of a month, McMaster has decided to spend $10 million to contribute when this project has been in the works since the summer of 2016 and the need for the expansion and new building have been apparent for much longer.

Prior to the failed referendum, the university was comfortable with saddling the students with a near doubling of a student fee. Was this the plan all along? Highball students with the full price, drop in with a cheaper rate if it fails and see if they will take that?

On the other hand, the politics of this are fantastic. The university can say they spent $10 million on a student building that is completely controlled by the students. That contribution could carry into future negotiations about who should bear the cost for certain projects. And the university will get something they really need: a new student building to put in their marketing materials.

This $10 million is not free; students just don’t know what the cost down the line will be. The money should have always been on the table as the need and want for the building has existed for years. Students should not celebrate that the university is contributing the money, they should ask why it was not there in the first place.

The original version and print version of this article states that the university was spending $1.1 million for operating costs. In fact, the university is spending $1.1 million a year for operating costs. 


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