Engineers angered by retroactive society fees

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Don't mess with the engineers or they may just take time off from drunken engg week antics to write a stern letter or two.

That is the reaction of many engineering students after examining their winter fee assessments. The Students' Union fee for Schulich School of Engineering students rose by $20 this winter, due to the imposition of a mandatory Engineering Students Society membership fee.

The fee includes winter membership and charges students retroactively for their fall membership. Some students claim this is unfair since the plebiscite on the implementation of the mandatory fee was held on Oct., 12, 2006, almost a month after full semester fees were due.

Wanting an explanation, Daley Mikalson contacted the dean, who directed him to ESS president Ryan Harrison.

"I was told that the ESS took a chance last semester by not collecting membership fees in anticipation of winning the vote on mandatory fees," said Mikason, noting this allowed the ESS to avoid refunding students who paid for fall semester membership.

Although Mikalson concedes that the response to his inquiry was prompt, he feels it was less than helpful.

"[Harrison] pointed me to the document ESS submitted to the university on the issue, a long 24-page document where I didn't really find my answer."

Mikalson added that the plebiscite question failed to get a representative response due to a lack of communication and poor timing.

"The Oct. 12 vote sort of came out of nowhere because at the end of last year there was no open discussion of a mandatory fee, and the fee deadline had passed by the time of the vote," said Mikalson.

Only 250 out of approximately 2,500 eligible students voted in the plebiscite, which Mikalson argued is unrepresentative of the engineering student body. Mikalson said he and many of his classmates were unaware they had access to ESS services last semester, since they hadn't purchased a membership.

"[I've] had very little contact with any ESS elected official at any time throughout my undergrad career and I've found that when I have wanted to use their services, such as the photocopier, their office has been closed, even this year when they have a full-time staff member," said Mikalson.

Harrison said the ESS does face student apathy due to their limited financial ability to offer the services they aim to provide.

"The ESS represents all students in engineering, but to be truly effective as a representative body the ESS requires money," he said. "We looked at different options, but in the end we decided to proceed with this plan, proposed by the dean of the faculty."

During the fall semester, the ESS has used their new revenue to further the goal of sustainable development that will continue to benefit future engineers, said Mikalson.

The ESS office is open whenever school is in session from 9 a.m. until 3 p.m. According to their website, the mandatory universal membership enables them to provide better services and to hire a full-time ESS administrator.

"In the coming weeks, we will be looking at holding an accountability session to gain feedback and input from students as to what they want," said Harrison. "Right now, we are really in a transitional phase and we are still addressing questions and deciding where to focus our efforts. Basically, we have been operating on a budget of no income as we have to wait for the winter fees to go through."

Not all engineers are up in arms about the fee changes. Although he hadn't heard very much about the new fee either, third-year engineering student Nick Cherniwichan said it doesn't bother him.

"Most students purchased membership before, and this just simplifies things," he said.

Harrison also said feedback has generally been positive and the ESS has seen more students showing up in the store, in the office and at their events.