C/O Cindy Cui

Clubs will be required to have a minimum $5 fee and 25 general members to be ratified for the 2021-2022 academic year

The McMaster Students Union recently made changes to the MSU Clubs policy which has sparked outspoken anger and frustration. Approved on March 26, 2020, the MSU Clubs policy was modified to include several notable revisions. Among those revisions were a mandatory minimum $5.00 membership fee for every general member, a minimum of 25 general members and the creation of the Clubs Advisory Council.

Current MSU Clubs Administrator Jenna Courage sent an email on Sept. 25 to club presidents in light of a Mac Confessions Facebook post released on Sept. 23 and other uproar from students. In the email Courage wrote, “[Y]ou [club presidents] are all aware that Clubs Department policies underwent major updates and revisions last year, prior to the COVID-19 shutdown and the start of online classes.”

[#971] Calling all student club leaders and execs! McMaster has changed some of their policies to accommodate for the…

Posted by Mac Confessions on Wednesday, September 23, 2020

Contrary to what Courage wrote, these policy amendments were passed by the MSU Executive Board after the COVID-19 shutdown and start of online classes. McMaster cancelled all classes and moved to an online learning format on March 13. These policy amendments, including the mandatory minimum $5 fee and the 25 general members, were passed at the Executive Board meeting on March 26.

In a memo to the Student Representative Assembly dated March 8, then-MSU President Josh Marando outlined a staffing change to the Clubs Operating Policy that was to be voted on at the next SRA meeting. Marando wrote, “[The updated operating policy] does not highlight the changes to any aspect of the policy other than the staff as those changes will be coming to the next SRA meeting.” The motion to create three new clubs staff passed unanimously on March 8.

The clubs amendments were not on the agenda for the March 22, April 18 and 19 or April 26 meetings. The March 22 meeting was cancelled due to COVID-19 restrictions. The new amendments were also not in the meeting minutes for April 18 and 19 as well as the April 26 date. The April 26 meeting was the last for the 2019-2020 SRA.

In addition, the current 2020-2021 SRA did not ratify the policy amendments. “These policy changes were months in the making, ultimately vetted and approved by the Student Representative Assembly,” Courage wrote in an email sent to club presidents on Sept. 25. However, the assembly as a whole did not approve the amendments. The 2019-2020 Executive Board passed these amendments on behalf of the SRA.

The motion to approve the amendments passed with eight in favour and one abstention. The Executive Board was composed of the 2019-2020 Board of Directors and five SRA members.

Then-MSU President Josh Marando released a statement on the MSU website on April 16, which highlighted some of the clubs amendments. “Additionally, clubs will now charge a single, standardized membership fee,” wrote Marando.  The policy of 25 minimum members is not included in this statement.

On April 17, then-MSU Clubs Administrator Aditi Sharma sent an email to 2019-2020 Clubs Presidents. This email included a document entitled Clubs Policy Changes FAQ. The email also linked Marando’s press release on the MSU website.

The FAQ document does not include the minimum $5 fee but does include the minimum 25 members. The MSU press release does mention a new mandatory fee but does not specify the minimum value of that fee. Both the FAQ document and Sharma’s email stipulate that there would be no changes to the ratification process for the 2020-2021 school year.

In August, Courage sent the same FAQ document to club presidents. The document stated, “there are no changes for the 2020-2021 academic year. However, in December of 2020, as part of the 2021-2022 application cycle, all clubs (new and renewal) will require a minimum of 25 members to receive recognition. These 25 members exclude the president and executive members. All members must have valid McMaster email addresses and student numbers.”

Courage’s email did not link to Marando’s press release.

According to Christina Brinza and Febby Pandya, co-presidents of the International Women in Science Day Conference, current club presidents weren’t made aware of the $5 fee until clubs training began at the end of September.

Brinza and Pandya wanted the conference to be free this year and to increase accessibility, and they believe that the $5 fee to be part of the club contradicts those goals.

Forcing our members to pay $5 just to continue to receive information about this event that’s still going to be free. It doesn’t seem fair to them or to us . . . It really contradicts our intention or our objective of accessibility,” said Brinza.

“It doesn’t seem fair to them or to us . . . It really contradicts our intention or our objective of accessibility,” said Brinza.

Pandya explained the concerns of the $5 specifically on their club, which would culminate in the conference in the winter term. She said, “Since we are hosting such a large event later in the semester we kind of have to allocate our sources to be able to support that kind of large event and we can’t really have too many miniature events to, you know, pique interest in to keep students wanting to come back.” 

Both Pandya and Brinza are worried about the classist undertones of the $5 fee, including for students who may want to try new clubs or who want to join multiple. In the March 26 Executive Board meeting, SRA member Eric Sinnige asked about the membership fee and cited concerns of a financial barrier to students. Then-VP Finance Alexandrea Johnston responded that if a student couldn’t afford the fee, they could work with the Clubs Accounting Clerk.

Both Pandya and Brinza are worried about the classist undertones of the $5 fee, including for students who may want to try new clubs or who want to join multiple.

However, that information was not included in this year’s MSU Clubs training module.

Julia Wickens, current VP administration and former president of jack.org McMaster, also expressed frustration and surprise at the policy changes.

“One of our biggest things as a mental health club is that we want people to feel that they can commit as much as they want to. So we have some people that attend a couple of our events and we have some people that are really, really involved. So I feel like putting a dollar value on that kind of hurts that idea a little bit and then from a student perspective, I think that $5 means a different thing to different people,” said Wickens.

A reason for the $5 minimum fee was that clubs would have more money in their budgets. In response, Wickens believed that there is a better way to reduce the amount of funding that clubs are requesting. 

“Make it easier for clubs to have cheaper options for things like food . . . but also for room-booking and stuff like that. In the past, we felt pretty limited about what our options are,” said Wickens.

“Make it easier for clubs to have cheaper options for things like food . . . but also for room-booking and stuff like that. In the past, we felt pretty limited about what our options are,” said Wickens.

On Sept. 27, the SRA formalized the policy exemption to all clubs for the 2020-2021 school year. According to SRA Arts and Science representative Adeola Egbeyemi, clubs will not have to charge the $5 fee or have a minimum of 25 general members for this school year. However, the policy will be in place for the 2021-2022 school year unless further action is taken by the SRA.

The MSU website has every MSU policy and by-law, including the MSU Clubs operating policies. However, as of Sept. 29, the Clubs Operating Policy is not up-to-date. Section 8.1.3 still states that “[a]n MSU Club shall . . . determine its own program membership and membership fee, consistent with the policies of the MSU.” The updated Clubs policies can only be found through the Executive Board documents.

Section 8.1.3 still states that “[a]n MSU Club shall . . . determine its own program membership and membership fee, consistent with the policies of the MSU.”

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