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Following a three-week long election period, the race for MSU President has finally come to an end.

After Sarah Jama’s reinstatement into the presidential race and the retabulation of votes on Friday, Feb. 5, Justin Monaco-Barnes remained the winner of the 2016 presidential election. Jama came in second overall, and Jonathon Tonietto fell to third place.

Justin Monaco-Barnes is now officially the MSU President for the 2016-2017 year. Some highlights from his platform to look forward to in the next year and a half include: his promise to print cheaper courseware through Underground, work towards sustainability at McMaster and efforts to continue addressing sexual violence on campus. The Silhouette interviewed Monaco-Barnes for our Feb. 4 issue which can be found on our Issuu page.


Sarah Jama was initially disqualified due to charges of misrepresenting expenses to the Elections Committee and a severe violation of “bad taste.”

The Elections Department released the minutes for the Jan. 28 post-election period meeting alongside the appeal decision. Following Bylaw 10 of the elections process, disqualification was briefly considered for Monaco-Barnes, Gill and Tonietto as well.

To counter the claim that she spent $500 on her website, Jama presented evidence that her campaign website was designed by a volunteer on her team who is also a co-founder of a website design company. Jama chose to display his logo on her website to promote the volunteer’s company as a sign of gratitude for his volunteer work. However, Jama told The Silhouette that she was still fined for not including her website designer as a part of her core team.

Jama’s campaign was also fined for a controversial retweet by one of her volunteers of an anonymous account that accused another candidate of sexual assault.  The CRO acknowledged, as the candidate herself posted on her Facebook page, that Jama took quick action to delete the tweet and remove two members from her team.

The retweet played a significant role in Jama’s initial disqualification. However, as stated in a press release by the MSU, following their deliberations on Feb. 5 the Elections Committee decided that the tweet did not significantly affect the integrity of the election.

With the end of perhaps the most contentious MSU election in nearly a decade, we can all go back to forgetting about student politics until the Student Representative Assembly elections in early March. See you then.

Photo Credit: Michael Gallagher/ Production Editor

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With the announcement of the new President-elect, the MSU also revealed the results of the VP electoral referendum. During this election period, students not only had the chance to vote for their choice candidate for president, but to also vote for or against (or abstain) initiating an election process for MSU Vice-Presidents.

The referendum resulted in 66.4 percent of the votes in favour of the process, with 4,590 students saying “yes” to VP at-large elections. While this number is impressive, it wasn’t enough for the referendum to pass. A constitutional referendum requires two-thirds of the votes to pass, or in other words, 66.67% “yes” votes. Had it received 20 more votes, or roughly 0.27% more support, McMaster would currently be moving towards an at-large VP electoral system.

“We were angry and disappointed in ourselves. We could have made just one more class talk, or ask more people to vote in order for it to pass,” said Esra Bengizi, one of the managers of the pro-VP reform campaign, in an interview with a Silhouette reporter.

The pro-referendum campaign group formed in early November after the Student Mobilization Syndicate presented a petition with over 800 signatures to the Student Representative Assembly requesting the right for students to vote for their VPs (Education, Administration and Finance) — a task that is currently done exclusively by the SRA. The SRA addressed the petition at their Nov. 1 meeting and decided that the vote would go to referendum as opposed to becoming a constitutional amendment.

Had the referendum passed, McMaster wouldn’t be the first school to switch to an at-large VP electoral system. Western University currently runs on a system that allows students to vote for two of their five VPs. The system has proven successful — as they have managed to continually elect a candidate for each position — but over the years voter turnout has decreased, and voter fatigue is assumed to play a role in this.

Although this recent loss is a blow to the efforts of pro-referendum campaign group, this may not be the end of the group’s campaigning. The VP Referendum is not the first to fail on a ballot, and this year doesn’t have to be the end of its campaigning. The Health Care Referenda, which constituted of three different questions related to the student health plan, failed the first run during the elections for the 2014-15 MSU President. The referenda were added to the ballot again the following year, and after increased promotions and education, all three referenda passed.

“With a team of only ten people we were able to get 4,590 voters to say yes,” Bengizi said. “Imagine if we had more. I was shocked to see such a success, and seeing this makes me even more ambitious to try again… we will not give up, we are going to continue to fight”.

*Files from Shalom Joseph

Photo Credit: Michael Gallagher/ Production Editor

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We might be lying to you. We don’t actually know if Justin Monaco-Barnes will be your next MSU President. Given Sarah Jama’s disqualification, which she is appealing this week, it’s possible that if she is successful, the vote recount will tell us that Justin isn’t the winner of this year’s election after all. The truth is that for many people, including most of the candidates, the election isn’t over yet.

However, we made the conscious decision to give Justin the presidential cover page he deserves if he is, at the end of it all, still the president-elect. But we aren’t ruling out the possibility of having another presidential face on our cover next week either.

From an outsider’s perspective, these elections have been messy. However, more than anything else, we have been surprised by the shortcomings of the rules governing MSU elections. Several things have happened in the last week that point to the need for change in how elections are carried out.

The most glaring shortcoming was the public announcement of a candidate’s disqualification without providing clear and detailed reasons behind this conclusion. While the results of the elections were released when the Elections Committee finished their deliberations in the early hours of Jan. 29, the general rules that Sarah Jama broke that led to her disqualification were made public approximately 12 hours later.

The minutes for the meeting, however, are still not posted on the MSU website at the time of this writing. It’s understandable given that the Elections Department wants to make sure the information that they release is accurate and that those involved are also full-time students, but the lack of available information does a disservice to both candidates and the student body.

Currently, Jama’s post is the only place where a student curious about the events that have taken place can find a detailed account. The problem with this account is that it is told through the lens of a candidate who is appealing her disqualification. We emailed the CRO to ask her to confirm the details shared by Jama, however, she did not want to comment on the veracity of the post.

More than failing to provide students with information in a timely manner, the process as it stands now also tarnishes the reputation of the disqualified candidate. When appeals are filed right before the end of the elections period, the targeted candidate does not have the opportunity to respond to the complaint. In the case of severe violations, the candidate should absolutely have the opportunity to present counterevidence before a decision as extreme as this is made. Unfortunately, the current system allows for campaign sabotage, especially if the Elections Committee is failing to reach out to the campaign in question for information. There have been only two presidential candidates disqualified in the MSU’s history, and the last one, in 2008, was overturned following more than a month of discussion. It is clear that disqualifications are rare and the decision to disqualify a candidate should be carefully examined and as transparent as possible.

In a high profile disqualification such as Jama’s — one only has to look at the attention her page’s status on the disqualification has garnered — the current results of the election should not be treated as if they are official. While the MSU Elections Department makes it clear in their post that the results are unofficial, you wouldn’t know that looking at the posts Monaco-Barnes or any of the other candidates made on their Facebook pages.

Several things have happened in the last week that point to the need for change in how elections are carried out. 

While we sympathize with the Election Department and Committee’s other responsibilities as students and understand that this is a sensitive process, we also think it is unreasonable to keep the student body in the dark so long after this decision was made. If the Elections Department is aware of its limitations, it should not make drastic announcements based on what appears to be incomplete evidence.

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According to MSU President-elect Justin Monaco-Barnes, the most difficult part of the two-week campaign period was not the rigorous events schedule or grueling series of debates and interviews. It was waiting for the results after the polls closed on Jan. 28. “After a hard day, a hard couple of weeks of campaigning, we were all exhausted, but then it's the mental stress of waiting that's the hard part,” he said.

Results night was certainly drawn out. It took 11 hours for the rankings to be released, leading to a tense, sleepless night for the candidates and their campaign teams. “At like, 4:03 my phone started vibrating and I looked down and I saw Ehima's name on the caller ID. It was a very surreal moment. Apparently [the phone] rang eight times, but in my mind it had only rung once,” said Monaco-Barnes, who was seemingly still a bit shocked the following afternoon. “People keep asking, 'How did you feel?' I can't even tell you. It was everything. Every emotion I could imagine was in that moment.”

"I plan to work really hard to achieve what they started and take it to the next level.” 

While Monaco-Barnes seemed somewhat shocked when he spoke with The Silhouette, his campaign manager Shaarujaa Nadarajah was anything but. The two became friends at this year’s MSU Retreat. She said she knew Monaco-Barnes would be a different kind of presidential candidate. “We were eating some awful camp sloppy joes and I was expecting him to ask me about my future plans in the organization because that's what everyone around me had been doing, but he just sat beside me and asked me about my family,” she said. A member of the Student Representative Assembly, Nadarajah was eager to take on the role of campaign manager. “It's hard to articulate, but when you have an infinite amount of faith in one person and their abilities, you just want to be in a role that is able to best support them. I wanted to be there for everything,” she explained. “The good, the bad, the challenges, the successes.”

Monaco-Barnes was happy to see fellow candidate Jonathon Tonietto was favoured in the polls as well. “During this process we really got a chance to talk a lot, and I got to know him better, and he's a really genuine person, so I was happy to see that he did well and that the student body could see what I saw as well.” The two candidates shared a passion for sustainability, and in earlier interviews with The Silhouette, Tonietto expressed his approval of Monaco-Barnes’ plans to make McMaster a more environmentally friendly institution. Monaco-Barnes added he was upset to see Sarah Jama disqualified from the race on results night. “I feel for her. I know what she put into it, what all the candidates put into it, and I totally understand how hard that would be,” he said.


The failing of the VP election referendum by what translates to approximately 20 votes was a reality check for the President-elect. Originally neutral on the issue, Monaco-Barnes came out in favour of the referendum partway through the campaign period. “I remember seeing the number and I was just kind of shocked. Because 20 votes, 20 votes. That's a tutorial,” he said. However, he noted that more students abstained than voted against the referendum, a sign he believes indicates the need for more education on the matter. “I think knowledge is power, and the more students know about the MSU and their school, the more they'll get from it.”

Reflecting on the campaign, Monaco-Barnes is proud of the work his team put into the election. “We ran a campaign that was just us. We were staying true to ourselves, and I think the student body really connected with that, and saw that it was a genuine campaign,” he explained. He cited the dedication of his campaign team as one of the reasons why he and his platform survived the campaign with relatively little negativity.

“I think knowledge is power, and the more students know about the MSU and their school, the more they’ll get from it.“

Over the next few months, Monaco-Barnes will wrap up his role as the service coordinator of the MSU Underground and complete his degree in English and Cultural Studies. During this time, he hopes to start working with current MSU President Ehima Osazuwa to ensure a smooth transition into the role of President and CEO of the MSU.

He plans to continue the current Board of Directors’ work on lobbying for lower tuition at McMaster and across the province. “It’s something that means a lot to me,” he said. “They've invested so much time and you never want to see something like that go to waste. I plan to work really hard to achieve what they started and take it to the next level.”

Photo Credit: Yung Lee/ Photo Reporter

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This is an evolving story and will be updated as more information becomes available.

As McMaster lay awake in anticipation following the closing of the polls on Thursday, Jan. 28, it would have sounded absurd to suggest that the most newsworthy item would not be the identity of the winner of the 2016 MSU Presidentials. Yet the announcement on the MSU website released on Friday at 3:45 a.m. was a collection of both the stunning and the improbable.

Jonathon Tonietto, one of the more unorthodox candidates, finishes second.

Mike Gill, arguably one of the frontrunners in this year's race, finishes as an outside third.

The referendum on VP elections at-large fails to pass by a margin of 0.3 percent, or approximately 20 votes.

But by far, the most startling turn of events: the disqualification of Sarah Jama from the Presidential candidacy for what are described as "excessive campaign violations."

Did someone mention that Justin Monaco-Barnes is the new MSU President-Elect?

These unexpected results are perhaps a fitting end to one of the most tense and aggressive campaign periods in recent memory. Anonymous accusations of sexual and physical assault against a candidate surfaced on social media, which prompted both an official response by the Women and Gender Equity Network and a discussion on these accusations during the Student Representative Assembly meeting on Sunday, Jan. 25.

In many ways, these events had a significant impact on the tone of the election, and according to a Facebook post by Sarah Jama, these allegations played a role in Jama's disqualification.

Based on the adjudication from Elections Committee, Jama's campaign committed two severe violations outlined in section 7.9 of the 2016 MSU Presidential Rules. As explained by Chief Returning Officer Priya Gupta, a severe violation is anything that involves "something that might harm the integrity of the election." She also explained that any severe violation is required to involve a discussion on disqualification by Elections Committee.

The first involves an infraction of rule 7.9.1 for exceeding the spending limit of $450 as outlined in rule 6.1, and the second is an infraction of rule 7.9.5, involving the use of material that is considered to be in "bad taste," defined in rule 2.1 as that which "shall include but not be limited to material that is determined by the Returning Officers to be: sexist, racist, heterosexist, homophobic, pornographic, obscene, derogatory or prejudicial to any member of the McMaster community."

The recent Facebook post by Jama on her campaign page confirms that the alleged incident in violation of rule 7.9.5 "Bad Taste" was in part a retweet on Jama's Twitter account of a user that accused one of the candidates of sexual assault.

While many have speculated on the outcome of the election had Jama not been disqualified, the results of the ballots will remain confidential during the appeals period in order to preserve the integrity of decisions made by Elections Committee.

According to Jama, the volunteer responsible as well as another individual involved were removed from her team following the incident. While rule 7.4 states that "candidates are responsible for their campaign and representatives," it later states that "candidates are required to notify the Returning Officers immediately if they believe they could be unfairly penalised for another individual's actions.” In her post, Jama asserts that she removed the tweet within “ten minutes” and that she “talked to the [Chief Returning Officer] right afterwards to make sure [her] response was correct.”

Currently, Jama has announced her intent to appeal the disqualification; her post on her Facebook page has specifically contested the severe violation for exceeding the spending limit, denouncing the violation as untrue. According to Jama, the decision was based on a screenshot of a conversation that indicated she had paid $500 for her website, but Jama has declared she has evidence that proves otherwise.

While many have speculated on the outcome of the election had Jama not been disqualified, the results of the ballots will remain confidential during the appeals period in order to preserve the integrity of decisions made by Elections Committee.

"I cannot reveal that information, only I know that information; even EC doesn't know," said Gupta.

"The reason being is that we do not want to bias EC's decisions, especially since we are in an appeals period. I think knowing that information might bias the people on the committee to one way or another."

Gupta also explained that the minutes for Elections Committee's meeting will be publicly shared as soon as they can be made coherent and presentable by Administrative Assistant Victoria Scott, the transcriber.

"There are seven hours' worth of meeting minutes," explained Gupta. "I'm hoping and aiming for them to be released by Monday or Tuesday."

"I know students are a little agitated and upset that the meeting minutes have not come out, but I just ask them to be patient and to respect the time. It is a human process."

The appeals period will extend until Friday, Feb. 5 and all candidates will have the opportunity to voice any concerns. In the meantime, students will be left to speculate on the results of a remarkably contentious election.

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Esther Chatul is not your typical MSU Presidential candidate. Despite having more likes on Facebook than two of the candidates in the running this year, she is not on your presidential ballot. This is not because she doesn’t have a platform, but because of blatant speciesism. Esther Chatul, to put it simply, is a cat.

In The Silhouette’s one-on-one interview with Esther, we learned a lot about the feline behind the non-human equity movement sweeping the campus. For an animal so vocal on social media, Esther is incredibly quiet and shy in person, burying herself in the lap of her human assistant. Perhaps this is because the five-year-old domestic long hair has had a rough upbringing. She has half a tail after an accident early in her life, and has been through three foster homes before finally being adopted from Pride Rescue by her current owner.


Her owner, Sophie Geffros, helps run Esther’s social media accounts, and translated Esther’s meows into English during the interview. Esther’s human assistants are very committed to the cause, helping her with day-to-day life, and doing everything from taking Esther on the bus to scooping litter boxes. After all, not having opposable thumbs in a world for people with opposable thumbs is very difficult.  “We raise her voice, because there’s nothing wrong with being a cat. It’s not that she is any less of a qualified candidate than any of the human candidates. It’s that the world is simply not built to accommodate cats,” said Esther’s human assistants.

Esther’s troubled past, however, has not deterred her from pursuing the presidency. Her ambitious platform includes leveling the entire campus to make it accessible. On this controversial platform point, Esther purrs, “The one thing we don’t know is just where the [expletive] we’ll have classes. It’ll be very difficult to accomplish, but definitely worth it once it happens. It’s sort of like building another student centre that you swear is totally going to get done.”


While her opponents have pigeonholed Esther as solely fighting for non-humans, this is not true. Another pillar of Esther’s campaign is to close the demon portal in the basement of KTH to protect humans who have classes there. Cats can see the demons, but cannot be affected by them. “It’s a bit of a tricky situation where the only animals who can blow the whistle are not in fact the victims of the situation. So it’s really important for me to speak up in these situations. I believe very strongly in responsible whistle blowing. [Upon learning about the demons], students became very distressed so I decided to include providing services for survivors of the demon portal in my platform. I believe in demon portal survivors.”

Esther’s critics have also drawn attention to the fact that the feline inclines to use profane language on Twitter. In response to these criticisms, Esther pawed angrily, “It is inappropriate for people in positions of privilege to tone police me. When you are not in a position of privilege it is your right to make your voice heard in whatever way you can. Before I started using more profane language, I simply wasn’t being heard. It’s unfortunate that it took that much for people to recognize my concerns as legitimate.”

Esther struts with the compassion of an animal who has experienced injustice borne from being a cat in a world made for people. She also has the strength and aggression borne from being a cat. Esther Chatul may not have claws, but her “claws” are out in the fight against injustice.


In her words…

Most ambitious platform point

Leveling campus

Sandwich she would make you

Tuna & gravy

Candidate platform you are critical of

Devante’s washroom improvements

“The fact that people can continue to ignore the need for gender neutral litter boxes is very distressing.”

For or against VP Referendum


Opponent you would vote for

“Sarah Jama”

“She actively recognized non-human equity.”



Photo Credit: Jason Woo/Lifestyle Editor

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Critique: Devante Mowatt’s MSU Office Hours

Critique: Jonathon Tonietto’s lack of tuition advocacy

Critique: Justin Monaco-Barnes’ coursewares

Critique: Mike Gill’s “Build our McMaster”

Critique: Sarah Jama’s food and healthy living

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This is an argument independent of the opinions of the Presidential candidates.

But when it comes to the referendum on VPs at-large, it's clear that it's unfashionable to be against an at-large vote.

To catch anyone up: until now, the Student Representative Assembly has internally elected the McMaster Students Union’s three vice presidents. The three VPs, along with the President, make up the Board of Directors that deal with the daily concerns of the MSU on a full-time basis.

However, after a push from students that began last year, the student body will be voting in a referendum on whether or not they want VP elections to be open to the general student body.

YES, for VP elections to move to an open vote.

NO, for VP elections to remain decided by the SRA.

So on one hand, it's understandable why it's unpopular to be against VP elections at-large. By saying no, are you against the opinions of the students? Are you against what democracy stands for? Are you saying that students can't decide for themselves what is right?

But this is a perversion of what a "no" argument entails: that a body of evidence indicates a host of issues with moving to an at-large system for VPs.

Sure, correlation does not equal causation, but voter turnout has steadily declined at Western University by 50 percent after moving away from internally elected VPs.

And by running a slate model (where candidates must run in teams) at-large, Queen's University has had its Board-equivalent acclaimed for the past two years.

Anecdotally speaking, this fatigue shouldn't come as a surprise if students are asked to make an informed vote on their MSU President, their Vice-Presidents, their SRA members and the various positions on their faculty societies, usually within the span of a month.

I have zero allegiance to the SRA, and if I felt that there was real, tangible evidence on why moving at-large is healthy for the democratic process, I would support it.

And yet there is none.


I am not defending the SRA's right to decide our VPs. I am defending our right to hold the SRA accountable.

Because if we argue that the SRA is unable to make appropriate decisions on our behalf, then we are arguing about a much larger problem; that our student representatives no longer represent our opinions.

If the SRA is biased or unrepresentative, what about the other decisions they make on our behalf? Should the introduction of every MSU service be decided by a public vote? Each new service involves the hiring of a paid, Part-Time Manager, and the impact of a service arguably lasts far longer than the one-year term of a VP.

I am glad that a service like WGEN was voted in unanimously by the SRA, instead of held to an open, at-large vote where toxic and sexist comments might have been made in ignorance.

And while I'm voting no, I want to clarify my stance, as I still want to see two major changes to the VP elections process.

The first change is for the VP elections to be decided by an open ballot, where the votes of each SRA member are transparent to the body of students they represent.

My representatives should not be afraid to explain their choices if they claim to represent my interests, and they should be accountable for the decisions they make on my behalf.

And the second change I want implemented is for the VP candidates to begin their internal campaigns at the same time that SRA positions open up.

Why does this matter, if the general student population isn't voting for our VPs?

Primarily because it forces individuals running for the SRA to be informed and accountable about our VP candidates.

Even if I invest my time to learn about each of the VP candidates, I'm not concerned if I prefer VP candidate X, while my prospective SRA representative prefers VP candidate Y. What I care about is that the people who claim to represent my interests have put in the time to have an informed opinion, and it's an opportunity for someone to prove just how serious they are.

This is not telling you that voting YES is wrong. If you're frustrated with the SRA, that's more than fair. I am still irritated by the SRA’s decision to remain neutral and it makes me wonder how that could possibly be helpful to the student body.

You should expect more from your SRA, and you should want to hold them accountable. Moving VP elections to an at-large system is ignoring a problem rather than fixing one.

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MSU Presidential candidate Justin Monaco-Barnes has a long history of working for the Underground Media + Design, a printing and media service provided by the MSU. He started as a part-time employee and now works full-time as the Services Manager, a student opportunity position offered through the Union.

Monaco-Barnes has a platform point on reducing courseware fees by 30 to 50 percent by printing through the Underground. While the Underground provides reasonable printing fees for the student body, the Campus Store, through Media Production Services — the current primary courseware printer — is currently the cheapest printing service on campus. For example, Underground currently charges eight cents for printing one black and white page, while the Campus Store charges five cents per black and white page.

The printing of coursewares, from any organization or printer, has a few main, consistent costs: the physical costs of printing paper, ink and binding, copyright license fees per article and a cost mark-up that accounts for miscellaneous fees such as labour and other business factors.

While physical printing fees play a role in Campus Store’s low costs, Monaco-Barnes’ promise to reduce the cost of coursewares by printing with the Underground may never be able to come into fruition primarily because of the Underground’s treatment of copyright licenses.

“The price itself, there’s no bias in it, it’s a straight formula. We don’t assign a copyright license fee to pages that we can get under fair [dealing], and that’s something we always do. The goal is the lowest price for a coursepack we can get for our students,” said Deidre Henne, McMaster’s Chief Financial Officer and Associate Vice President (Administration).

The Campus Store, through Media Production Services, has been able to provide the lowest costs for page printing on campus, as they have removed any access copyright fees associated with printing, a fee no longer required for reprinting according to a new law that was implemented by the Ontario government this past December.

“I make [our staff] check all of the pricing in all of the surrounding area, even in Toronto,” said Henne in regards to how The Campus Store calculates their printing fees each year.

The Campus Store is currently able to charge less in regards to copyright licenses because of their Library License Agreement that is provided by the University. This means any article that is offered digitally through McMaster’s library system does not need license fees applied to it when printed in a courseware. This is a luxury only available to The Campus Store at this time, due to their connection to the university. The Underground unfortunately has to charge a license for all articles used, unless McMaster is prepared to extend this Library License to an MSU service.


In an effort to prove to the student body that The Campus Store does in fact charge the lowest price, the store conducted a test to compare their costs to those of the Underground. They purchased three coursewares from the Underground at standard retail price, and calculated how much their version of the same book would cost given their pricing structure:

In addition to arguing that the cost would be lower, which at this time appears to be false, Monaco-Barnes also claims that selling through the Underground can increase the budgets of student services. This claim is also misleading as The Campus Store does currently foot a large bill for Student Affairs, a university service that helps fund Accessibility Services, Housing, Off-Campus Services, International Student Services and more. To imply that The Campus Store is providing less for students than what the Underground could is misleading. While the Underground could technically route more money back to the MSU, it is important to remember that the MSU is a non-profit organization and the goals of its services is to have a break-even budget, not necessarily to make a profit for increased servicing.

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