The Trent University administration has realized that students were charged slightly above its minimum stipulated amount in Ancillary fees for the 2015/16 academic year.
The University was notified about the discrepancy in the calculation of the non-tuition-related compulsory ancillary fees by one of the student leaders, who is also a member of CASSC.
As per the budget outlined in the 2014/15 Colleges Year-End Report: “In 2015/16, the college fee will change by 2.4% to reflect a cost of living increase.” The report specifically stated that the current college fees of $235 that every full-time undergraduate student pays annually has been decided to be increased for the coming year based on the consumer price index (CPI).
As of the 2006-2007 academic year, the categories of the non-tuition-related compulsory ancillary fees charged to students of Trent University in Peterborough (and in Oshawa, if so designated) are namely: Wellness, Athletics, Athletic Capital Development, College, Convocation, Campus Card, Introductory Seminar Week, Residence and Meal Plan.
However, in keeping with the Trent Non-Tuition-Related Compulsory Ancillary Fee protocol 2011-2015, “Athletics, Colleges, and Housing Fees will be subject to a Utilities and OPSEU [Ontario Public Service Employees Union] increase clause,” and not the CPI.
As explained by the protocol, increases to base ancillary fees for Athletics, Colleges, and Housing Fees will occur automatically to cover inflationary items such as salaries as determined by the collective agreement between the University and OPSEU, and the annual utility rates as determined by the government.
Wellness, Convocation, Campus Card, and Introductory Seminar Week are subject to CPI increase clause.
Talking to Arthur, Associate Vice President (AVP) Students Nona Robinson discussed how the issue was brought to her attention by one of the student members of CASSC.
“I was made aware that we have brought forward a budget for Colleges and Housing with the cost of living increases without realizing that the mentioned categories have a slightly different approval set-up,” acknowledged Robinson.
What should have happened (which they thought was automatic) according to her, was the CASSC should have had a vote for those budgets in question, that they wanted it to increase by the CPI instead of the automatic Utilities and OPSEU increase clause.
Robinson described CASSC as the student representative body around ancillary fees among other responsibilities. According to the mandate and responsibility of CASSC, it is the mechanism by which fee increases are approved for ancillary fees.
Trent Colleges and Student Services Committee (CASSC) Terms of reference 2013-2014 defines CASSC as “[t]he standing advisory committee to the Associate Vice President of Student Services.
CASSC recommendations are forwarded by the AVP of Student Services to the appropriate Vice President (Academic, Administration or External Relations and Advancement).”
As per the update provided by Robinson, the University is currently in the process of recalculating the discrepancy, and that is expected to be completed shortly. Financial Services are looking at recalculating what the actual increase would have been if they had not overlooked the differences in the process to increase the base ancillary fees for different categories.
However, according to the rough calculation developed by Robinson, although not accurate, she speculated the difference is not large. On receiving the exact figures from the financial services, she will be taking it back to CASSC.
“I have already apologized to the CASSC because I should have caught it, all of us should have caught it,” acknowledged Robinson. “I will take responsibility for this because as the AVP of students and CASSC advisor, I should have caught it.”
Robinson informed Arthur, they will discuss what they want to do about it – some options are to either pass the motion to retroactively approve the increase, or look at what are the ways of reimbursing the difference or balance it out with the fees in the current year.
“I personally would like to say that I am extremely sorry both on behalf of CASSC last year, and myself that it has happened,” apologized Robinson.
However, everyone involved is equally responsible for the discrepancy, according to the information outlined in CASSC Terms of Reference 2013-2014. It states that “each active sub-committee is responsible for developing the recommendations for ancillary fees associated with the budget area that the sub-committee represents, and for presenting the recommendations to CASSC.”
The students have been made aware of this discrepancy through their student representatives, even though there has not been a formal communication about it, said Robinson. She explained that it is because the University didn’t have the exact figure, CASSC has not decided what to do about it yet.
Further, it was also discussed with Arthur that the question of investigating the ancillary fee increases from the past years would definitely be raised at the CASSC.
Talking to Vice President of Gzowski Cabinet, Taylor Williams, the CASSC member who uncovered the discrepancy in the first instance, he said he came across the issue while looking through the ancillary fee policy.
He noticed how the colleges were not subjected to CPI when the recent college report specifically said that it was increased based on the cost of living.
Williams then discussed the issue with other student leaders and took it to Robinson, AVP students.
He agreed with the earlier statements made by the AVP students. For example, since she had looked into it, it was acknowledged that there was an error in how the procedure had gone about. She is currently looking into the extent of the increase by which they have gone above what is permitted, too, added Williams.
“We are still waiting for financial services to determine the extra percentage charged, although it is expected that the difference will be quite small.”
According to Williams, Nona also mentioned that there was some concern that possibly the athletics and housing budgets may have some issue as well. However, since then, it has been verified that Athletic was calculated based on OPSEU/Utilities.
Barry Townsend, who recently resigned from the Head of Colleges position, was in charge of the budgets. Williams explained briefly how it works at CASSC.
“I was on CASSC last year. We all thought that college budget was subject to CPI and turns out it was not. It was a mistake, and all of the parties involved share a certain degree of responsibility,” said Williams.
Vice President University and College Affairs Pippa O’Brien, who is also a CASSC member, had raised the issue during the TCSA Board of Directors meeting held on December 6, 2015.
O’Brien wanted a straw poll in order to see which way the Board was leaning towards on this issue. During deliberation, according to the minutes of the meeting, Ethical Standards Commissioner Alexander McKee said the refund would not have a positive effect.
He reasoned that, considering the cost associated with refunding, the refund would be devalued and would take away the benefit of having the refund occur.
He pointed out that the Athletics Centre, for example, budgeted according to what they have, and to refund the extra money allocated would only hurt them.
During the meeting, TCSA decided that, if the amount owed to students was under $10, the refund might not be necessary as it takes time and money to issue refunds, but that Trent should issue a formal apology. However, if the amount owed is over $10, TCSA will re-discuss what action they would like to take.
Meanwhile, the next CASSC open meeting is scheduled to take place on January 20, 2016 at 11AM., and Robinson hopes that the recalculated amounts will be available for that meeting.
If students are interested in the outcome of the meeting and the actual numbers, the meeting is open to the public. Without observant student representation that Williams has demonstrated, the fees students were overcharged could have remained unnoticed.
This incident stresses the importance of student representation in decisions involving student money, who is accountable for spending them, and where this money ends up going.
With important changes coming up this year such as the Traill College and the International Program reviews, it is clear how important this very student representation is.