As the first week of September rolls in, a new batch of first year students are being introduced to life at McMaster. Welcome Week 2013 is in full swing as upper-year students, campus organizations, and administration gather to welcome incoming Mac students to their new school.
The current Welcome Week marks the second year of a mandatory MacPass, a policy requiring every incoming first year to pay a $110 levy to participate in the week of events. While new to the Welcome Week, the levy was met with success by the MSU last year and a similar model has been followed this year.
“There haven’t been too many big changes, mainly small things,” MSU VP Administration Anna D’Angela said of the planning. The VP Administration is traditionally one of the main organizers of the week.
Though the week is about half done, MSU President David Campbell is already pleased with how things are going.
“I want to knock on wood saying this, but I think it’s been going pretty smoothly so far,” he said of the programming.
The 2013 Welcome Week has also continued the trend of increasing options for students living off campus.
“I do think again the focus was on trying to get more off-campus [students], because they tend to be the most prominent group of people who don’t necessarily get involved as much but are now paying to be involved,” Campbell explained.
Such events as the SOCS Sleepover, available after the Tuesday night concert so off-campus students could stay on campus, were repeated this year, having been first implemented in 2012.
The weeknight concert, a regular part of Welcome Week activities, was headlined this year by Tommy Trash, while Friday’s concert in Faculty Hollow is set to welcome Lights and The Arkells back to Hamilton.
As faculty societies begin to gear up for another year of planning for the incoming first-years, the Student Success Centre (SSC) and the MSU, as part of the Welcome Week Review subcommittee of the Student Services Committee, have just compiled their financial report from Welcome Week 2012.
The report comes in the wake of last year’s changes to orientation fees. In the past, incoming first-years had to register and pay for a MacPass, allowing them entry for the week’s events; they no longer have to, and are instead automatically charged fees.
In a campaign led by then-MSU president Matt Dillon-Leitch, the 2012 annual general assembly met its quorum of three percent of the student body for the first time in 17 years. Because it had the required 601 students, all votes passed were binding. And the students chose to implement the $110 mandatory fee for Welcome Week for new first-years.
The aim was to create a system with a widely bought but reasonably priced pass in order to have a “bigger and better” Welcome Week.
But despite the ample cash and months for all of the parties to report back, the finances remain unclear.
“This is our first year of developing what this consolidated financial report is,” explained Gina Robinson, Assistant Dean of Student Affairs and Director of the Student Success Centre.
But David Campbell, MSU VP (Administration), added that of the current breakdown, “we didn’t find any drastic areas that are way off.”
The $110 spent by each student is split between the MSU, the Student Success Centre, off-campus residence life, swag and miscellaneous merchandise, and the nine different faculties.
Campbell noted that there was some chance a “few dollars here and there” might be shifted from one division to another, but that the total value of the levy would stay consistent, potentially being indexed to CPI.
Although the breakdown was good, Campbell and Robinson explained that the reports sent to them from the faculty societies were far from consistent.
“Some of the statements weren’t really well put together,” said Robinson. “They didn’t always add [up] properly.”
Each faculty received $11 per student, but most supplemented this basic fee with additional money from their faculty societies.
“There were some faculties we had to go back to and ask for a second round of reporting, but there were no major [discrepancies],” Campbell said. “There’s nobody we suspect that egregiously misspent.”
He elaborated by saying that the faculties had no real guidelines for determining what constituted a Welcome Week expense.
Things like summer rep training or post-Welcome Week rep appreciation create some ambiguity when it comes to budgeting and reporting. And certain expenditures, like last-minute rain locations for faculty day, have resulted in misrepresented budgets and false deficits.
With this in mind, the faculty expenditures will be confirmed, said Campbell, but he didn’t expect the differences determined from clearing up ambiguity to amount to a lot of money.
Both Robinson and Campbell described their new roles as “gatekeepers” for the faculty finances, which are compiled and streamlined by the Office of Student Affairs for the first time this year.
“I feel really good about it because that way we can account to the student body exactly,” Robinson said.
The MSU and the Student Success Centre, like the faculties, received funds from the guaranteed sale of MacPasses to all first years.
The MSU and its divisions of Avtek and Campus Events are responsible for putting on Welcome Week concerts; this year, the performances by the Sheepdogs and Steve Angello cost roughly $40,000 and $50,000 respectively, including production costs, making them some of the biggest concerts Welcome Week has ever seen.
Meanwhile, the Student Success Centre offered a range of programming similar to what it has in past years, including $16000 spent on the Summer reading Program and $10,000 spent on the IRIS theatre production. It also funded the off-campus students’ Sunday night social, spending $7,000 as part of their goal to expand programming for off-campus students.
It’s that time of year again. With a new group of first year students and a fresh team of reps, Welcome Week is once again in full swing. The difference this time is that every first year student has bought a MacPass.
Halfway through the week, MSU President Siobhan Stewart is already happy about the results. “I would say it’s better,” said Stewart of this year’s Welcome Week. “I think it’s too early to say one hundred percent, but my perception at least is that it’s better.”
This positive response comes in the wake of last year’s MacPass policy change. In a campaign run by former MSU president Matthew Dillion-Leitch, quorum was reached at the MSU general assembly, where students voted in favour of a motion to impose a universal Welcome Week levy on first years.
Rather than paying separately for the ticket to Welcome Week events, all incoming students are now charged the $110 though their student accounts with no chance to opt out.
The intentions behind this change were both “financial and philosophical,” explained MSU Vice President of Administration David Campbell.
In previous years, Campbell said, some students who wanted to purchase MacPasses on site were turned away.
“[Dillon-Leitch] saw that this wasn’t right,” he said.
Furthermore, he described the prices of years past as being “artificially low,” due to a subsidy from another university source.
“The problem that we were faced with…was do we want to jack the prices up, or are we going to find another solution? Because we need some sort of sustainable model.”
The new MacPass levy has translated to increased registration for Welcome Week. Although the fee is automatically applied, students were given the opportunity to register online in advance, explained Michele Corbeil, First Year Transition Program Coordinator at the Student Success Centre.
She described the response as “positively overwhelming,” citing an increase of 500 students in registration before the week began.
By Sunday, a total of over 4600 students had picked up MacPasses—roughly 800 more than in previous years and still rising throughout the week.
“The majority of that increase happened in off-campus students, which is really key,” said Campbell. “We were really pleased with that, because that was one of our big targets.”
Though the registration overall was up, it was difficult to say if attendance increased at specific events.
“It’s a growing year for SOCS,” said Stewart. “They’re really motivated and…excited about it.” Both Campbell and Stewart emphasized the expansion of programming for off-campus students, as well as other marginalized groups. “The programming is fairly diverse…and we’re always looking to expand that.”
The no opt-out policy doesn’t appear to be a major issue, for either off-campus or residence students.
Said Stewart, “I haven’t heard any complaints from any first year that I’ve talked to, but that’s just my experience thus far.”
Campbell notes that the no opt-out policy is something the MSU is still working on.
“In my ideal world, it wouldn’t be that we’d introduce an opt-out, but it would just be that every student was getting something out of it,” he said.
And in the end, that’s what Welcome Week is all about, said Stewart. “My sincere hope is that students find something to connect to during this week.”