#thetimeisnow

Editorial: Time for transparency in McMaster's part-time students association

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When the McMaster Association of Part-time Students was denied a 42.9 per cent fee increase last spring, it must have raised some red flags with the University.

It was the second substantive increase that MAPS had requested in three years. In reporting to the University’s Board of Governors, the Budget Committee expressed its discomfort with approving the increase. For its part, the Finance Committee felt that insufficient evidence was given to support the need for it.

But although MAPS was denied the extra funding, the organization seems far from starving.

Sam Minniti, who has served as executive director of the Association since 2005, made Ontario’s 2012 Public Sector Salary Disclosure list with one-year earnings over $126,000. In 2010, MAPS donated $1 million to the construction of the Wilson Building for Studies in Humanities and Social Sciences, which will break ground on campus next summer.

MAPS recently participated in an audit by the University, The Silhouette has learned. The results have not been released.

MAPS, which is incorporated separately from the University, was established in 1979 to represent students in part-time degree programs and in continuing education. All students taking fewer than 18 units in an academic session paid fees of $13.07 per unit this year, including a $7 MAPS membership fee, a $4.92 Athletics and Recreation fee and a $1.15 administrative services fee.

Also paying MAPS fees were summer students, many of whom would have paid McMaster Students Union dues as a full-time student during the previous fall and winter terms, and therefore retained their MSU membership into the summer. Although those students may apply to transfer their membership from MAPS to the MSU, the MAPS fees are automatically charged.

By comparison, an MSU member taking 30 units this year would have paid $15.48 per unit in membership dues to the Union.

The two organizations, though, have different missions. While both advocate on behalf of students, the Students Union also provides a number of services, health and dental plans, and a bus pass.

Both Minniti and MAPS president Jeanette Hunter declined live interviews with me on multiple occasions over a period of a few weeks. While both agreed to answer questions over email instead, they chose to jointly prepare and submit their responses, despite my request that they each send responses.

Minniti and Hunter said that MAPS activities in recent years have included opposing the elimination of free tuition for seniors two years ago, fighting to keep general three-year degrees and encouraging the University to relax requirements on admissions of mature students so that they could take more courses to accelerate degree completion. The MAPS donation to the Wilson Building was made because many part-time students are enrolled in a liberal arts program, they said.

Ensuring access to university services after hours is another stated priority for MAPS, as is helping students who might have been out of school for a while to navigate course registration and access financial aid.

But at the time of this writing, the MAPS website contained no governing policies, bylaws, financial statements or other organizational documents – only the promise that they would be updated soon.

“The MAPS Board is currently discussing the kinds of documents to be placed on the MAPS website,” Minniti and Hunter told me.

MAPS bylaws, which The Silhouette has obtained and which were last updated in 2008, read that audited financial statements must be presented to MAPS members each February at an Annual General Meeting. Corporation members also are permitted to examine the financial records at any time, given reasonable notice.

Minniti and Hunter explained that statements were presented at an AGM in February of this year, though they declined to share statements with The Silhouette.

I don’t doubt the need for part-time student representation. The culture of our campus is built around our full-time undergrads. And maybe the MSU, even if its operating documents mandated it do so, wouldn’t be able to give part-time or mature students the attention they require.

But it’s time for a little transparency. MAPS need to make bylaws, agreements and financial statements publicly available. They need to make better use of part-time students’ money. And they should try giving the campus media the time of day.

Part-time students are busy, I know. They have jobs, and maybe even families.

But something, I think, is apparent: they need to take the time to demand better from their Part-time Students Association.

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