It’s that time of the year where a large majority of students are strategically avoiding the atrium of the McMaster University Student Centre. The campaigning period for the next McMaster Students Union president is currently underway and will continue until the end of polling on Jan. 24.
Elections for MSU president are held annually, and are voted on by the MSU membership. While this sounds fair on paper, this translates into the consistent underrepresentation of co-op and internship students during elections. These students, who are not technically MSU members, are not allowed to support presidential candidates which includes voting or being a member of a presidential campaign team.
This is especially concerning considering co-op and internship students make up a large per cent of McMaster’s undergraduate population, with some programs like the bachelor of technology mandating co-op. If graduating students are afforded the right to vote and influence the MSU, despite not being present to actually experience the changes themselves, it makes little sense to deny returning students the same rights.
The argument in defense of excluding these students is that they do not pay the MSU fee. For the 2018-2019 academic year, this fee was $573.07, paid by each full-time undergraduate student at McMaster University in addition to their tuition and other fees. Note that $230 goes towards the MSU Health and Dental plan where students have the option to opt-out.
While it is true that co-op and internship students do not pay MSU fees or tuition, they still are required to pay co-op fees. For example, students in the faculty of science are required to pay a $3050 co-op fee over three years, which includes a yearly $150 administration fee. Similarly, students from the DeGroote School of Business must pay around $900 to participate in the commerce internship program.
A solution could be to allow these students the option to opt-in to the MSU fee and thus become MSU members with all the rights and privileges afforded with MSU membership, including the right to participate in MSU elections. But should students be forced to pay the full MSU fee in order to be represented?
Other student unions like University of Victoria’s Students’ Society collect partial fees from co-op students. Payment of this partial fee allows these students to only access services that are relevant towards them. This includes access to the health and dental plan, ombudsperson, university bursaries and democratic participation in students’ society elections.
If a system like this was introduced to the MSU, it would allow co-op and internship students the ability to benefit solely from services and activities that pertain to them, while not unnecessarily paying for services which are less relevant to students away on placements like participating in MSU clubs. This could then essentially be a reduced version of the $130.26 MSU operating fee that full-time undergraduate students pay as part of their MSU fee.
Alternatively, the MSU can make it so that returning MSU members are afforded electoral rights without having to pay an additional fee. Co-op and internship students spend the majority of their degree at the university. They have most definitely paid MSU fees in the years preceding their placements and will continue to pay fees upon their return. Why should they be charged additional monies during their short term away just to be represented?
Students on co-op or internships are still returning students that deserve to have an input on their union’s representation. Whatever change is made for future elections, it stands that the current unfair treatment of co-op and internship students by the MSU is a disservice to us all.