Three suitors for one hand
By Joshua Budd
The Canadian Federation of Students is expected to regain faltering support from McMaster students after an informal debate held at the university Monday.
The debate, sponsored by The Silhouette, McMaster's student newspaper, brought together the federation, the Ontario Undergraduate Student Alliance and the Canadian Alliance of Student Associations.
The debate precedes a referendum scheduled by McMaster's students' council for next month to decide if the university should extend membership with the federation.
"There is a grass-roots movement at McMaster against the federation," said Aaron Vegh, executive editor of the newspaper. "The students don't feel they're being represented and membership is costing too much."
Vegh said the federation, represented by its national chair Brad Lavigne and OUSA, represented by researcher Barry McCartan, made a good showing and defended themselves strongly.
In response to student concerns over the cost of membership fees, Lavigne said the amount in membership dues McMaster contributes to the federation on the national and provincial level are significantly lower than local student fees.
He added McMaster students have complete control over where membership fees go and how they are used.
Vegh said CASA, represented by Kelly Foley, the association's Ontario regional director, made the weakest showing in terms of policy and the way she articulated the associations opinions.
"We haven't made any final conclusions, but in our opinion CASA doesn't even enter the picture," Vegh said. "We should either go with OUSA or stay with the federation."
Foley said yesterday that CASA is more responsive to students and it was created by students who pulled out of the federation after they felt they were not being properly represented on the national level.
She added the association was designed to make the central administration more flexible and accessible to its members. Foley said the association gives students a greater say in policy and decision-making procedures than the other student lobby organizations.
Despite discussing differences between the three organizations, the issue of an income contingent loan repayment plan for students figured prominently throughout the debate.
Lavigne said CFS opposes an income contingent plan on the grounds that graduates with lower incomes will pay more over time than graduates who earn a higher income and can pay the loan sooner.
"An income contingent plan has nothing to do with the student. It is a funding mechanism, not a student aid plan," Lavigne said. "Deregulation of tuition will inevitably follow such a plan. You can't have one without the other."
McCartan said he rejected the idea that student aid will necessarily lead to an increase in tuition.
"We believe student assistance and tuition are two separate issues," McCartan said. "Now is not the time for a tuition increase and we suggest repaying loans according to income and a cap on how long you have to pay it off."
All three organizations agreed students should have greater representation in university governance bodies and should be more involved with the granting of tenure and promotions for professors.