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Graduate students at Queen’s University urge alumni to suspend donations over unfair fees

Last Updated on October 2, 2020 by YGK News Staff

The Society of Graduate and Professional Students (SGPS) at Queen’s University recently launched a petition calling for the University to reassess Athletics & Recreation Centre (ARC) fees and provide refunds upon student request.

“We request that fees be adjusted based on the services that will be offered, not the services wished to be provided,” the petition states. “We request that the ARC provide refunds to the students who request it, as Queen’s has encouraged students not to return to campus this fall, and many students will be unable to do so due to health, travel, and financial restrictions.”

The ARC membership fee for full-time Queen’s students is conventionally mandatory, covering fall and winter term access for undergraduate students and year-round access for graduate and professional students. Due to the circumstances surrounding COVID-19, however, the ARC closed in March and did not resume regular services until September.

The SGPS pushed for the refund throughout the summer, but to little avail.

“We [at the SGPS] did the math and the ARC was closed for about 45% of the year”

Courtney Bannerman, vice-president graduate of SGPS, told YGK News that there has been “a lot of back and forth” on the matter between SGPS and Queen’s administration.

“We [at the SGPS] did the math and the ARC was closed for about 45% of the year,” Bannerman said. “So we went to administration and said, you’ve charged [graduate and professional] students this large fee even though the ARC wasn’t open during the summer. We justifiably should be getting a refund for the months the ARC wasn’t actually open.”

Bannerman said the SGPS initially called for a full refund of the summer portion of the fee and was met with a compromise of 50% because the outdoor fields remained open, though she added that “the fields are open to everyone, regardless of the fee.”

The ARC ended up refunding 17% of the summer fee to graduate and professional students.

“We thought students would get back a refund of thirty-five dollars, but students actually only got back twenty-nine dollars,” Bannerman said. “We were really upset [ … ] it just seemed like over time, administration kept chipping away and making the refund smaller and smaller.”

“We’ve talked to administration about the petition and we told them that we’re going to continue to press for this issue,” Bannerman said. “If there’s no give and take or discussion surrounding it, we’re just going to continue ramping up the pressure.”

Seeking support from the community

The SGPS is currently in contact with the Queen’s University Alumni Association (QUAA) and other alumni bodies, asking them to withhold donations to the ARC. According to Bannerman, the SGPS is reaching out to local publications, gyms, and other institutions in the Kingston community for support as well.

Bannerman appreciates that the petition has connected student bodies on campus and hopes the petition “generates a larger conversation about transparency in student fee spending.”

“We didn’t [start] this petition because we’re against or don’t support the ARC,” Bannerman said. “We started this petition because a lot of students are financially hurting, and it’s not equitable or right for [administration] to make all students pay this fee if they’re staying home. To offer the refund to students who request it is the least the University could do to show that they support their students and want their students to thrive and be successful.”

In a report submitted to the Board of Trustee’s on Sept. 25, the Queen’s University Advancement Office had set a $80,000,000 fundraising goal for the 2020-2021 academic year. To date, they have raised 73.0% of their target goal, amounting to $58,384,401. This includes a $40-million gift for the Agnes by Bader Philanthropies Inc. earlier this summer.

A breakdown of where donor dollars are attributed to this period by Faculty/Portfolio at Queen’s University

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