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Response to concerns about the occupants of the Grey House

September 03, 2011

To members of the Alma Mater Society:

The purpose of this letter is to disseminate information in relation to the recent decision of two previous AMS Clubs, the Ontario Public Interest Research Group (OPIRG) and the Levana Gender Advocacy Centre, to not apply for space renewal for the 2011-2012 year. 

We had desired to release more information on this matter after meeting with the directors of OPIRG and the Levana Gender Advocacy Centre in order to provide as many details as possible and, hopefully, share news of a resolution.  In light of the Levana Gender Advocacy Centre’s request for the meeting’s postponement until Tuesday, we have published this release to provide clarification to our members.  Unfortunately, we cannot provide news of a resolution at this time, but hopefully this will address outstanding concerns from the AMS community.

Clubs and Space Allocation:

Clubs are a very important aspect of student life at Queen’s, with over 200 currently ratified and active, it is the responsibility of the AMS to help support their initial formation and their ongoing operations. The AMS functions as a resource to our clubs, providing funding, mentorship support, and access to space needed to carry out club activities.

Before a club is able to take advantage of these various resources, they must meet requirements as voted into policy by the elected representatives of the AMS assembly. Ratification is the standard process by which clubs can be recognized by the Society through the Clubs Office.

The ratification process is purposefully simple: new clubs are formed when an individual submits a new club application package (available by contacting the Clubs Manager and, soon, on our website). The package includes a number of basic questions, an information sheet, and a sample constitution to govern the organization. Once submitted, the Clubs Manager reviews the submission to ensure that the club adheres to the AMS mission statement and our guiding documents.

Clubs who have already been recognized by the Clubs Office are given the opportunity in April to re-ratify as a club for the following year. Last year, all re-ratifications were due on May 1st. This year, it was extended a month to better accommodate club executive transitions. The notices were issued this year on April 27th.

The club re-ratification form, as in previous years, also included a space allocation request, as well as an optional feedback form. Over 90 clubs submitted requests for space, and a committee comprised of Clubs Manager Craig Draeger, Commissioner of Internal Affairs Mark Preston, Student Centre Officer Gillian Shields, and Vice President University Affairs Kieran Slobodin (“the Club Space Allocation Committee”) was struck to evaluate these applications.  The membership and mandate of this committee is outlined in the AMS constitution and policy manuals.

Over several months, Space Allocation Committee deliberated on these issues carefully, and found overall that numerous aspects of club space utilization could be improved. There were many outstanding problems with safety, security, and efficiency, and the committee has worked to address these. It should be noted that the committee was not operating under the mandate of any new policies, but was working to enforce existing policies already voted into place.

This has been, at times, a difficult process, both for the AMS and for some of the clubs involved. One of our theatre companies, for example, was asked to clear its club space into off-campus storage, because we are unable to safely house their materials without violating fire code. To list another example, the Queen’s Debating Union (QDU) is being relocated from their longstanding location in the JDUC to a different space in the Queen’s Centre because the committee has recognized that the new location would better serve the needs of the club and the student body as a whole. QDU, though initially unsatisfied with the decision, has agreed to respect the process and result.

Throughout the space allocation process this year, changes have occurred. While the Space Allocation Committee has operated under a consistent methodology for the first time, the basic process for re-ratifying as a club, requesting space, and entering into a stewardship agreement of that  space with the Society has remained consistent with assembly-mandated policy.

The Specific Cases of the clubs OPIRG and the Levana Gender Advocacy Centre:

OPIRG and the Levana Gender Advocacy Centre never submitted re-ratification forms for 2011-2012 and have never applied for space for the upcoming year.

The Society is required to act upon its own policies and mandates. By the assembly-established policies and mandates, we gave fair and objective consideration to all applications from ratified clubs. The Clubs Office made an effort beyond its assembly-mandated responsibilities to reach out to OPIRG and the Levana Gender Advocacy Centre and encourage them to re-ratify.

We reached out to the groups Ontario Public Interest Research Group (OPIRG) and the Levana Gender Advocacy Centre on more occasions than any other groups. We employed a variety of methods, which included email correspondence, telephone conversations, and a personal visit by the Clubs Manager and Commissioner of Internal Affairs to 51 Bader Lane (the space previously allocated to clubs after their application for space in the 2010-2011 year) to implore the groups to ratify and apply for space. We extended these courtesies to the two organizations because of the essential services we have seen them offer to the Queen’s and Kingston communities. Our efforts were not met with success and to date neither OPIRG nor the Levana Gender Advocacy Centre have submitted re-ratification forms.

By policy, we are not able to offer space to groups who have not applied, or have not indicated a desire, to remain an AMS-sanctioned club. If we were to contravene this policy, it would set a troubling precedent of affording the Space Allocation Committee an unmonitored and unaccountable license to assign space resources, especially to groups unaffiliated with the society. In no way did the membership of the committee neglect their policy-defined duties to their constituents, and all applicable policies were followed.

This is not an “eviction.” In the case of OPIRG and the Levana Gender Advocacy Centre the AMS did not receive a request for space for the 2011-2012 year. As detailed above, this could not have occurred because the organizations in question did not indicate their desire to continue their club status, in spite of our efforts to reach out to them and accommodate an extended deadline.

It was decided that, in recognition of the organizations’ long standing ties to the AMS, a personal delivery of a notice was deemed appropriate. On August 29, 2011, Clubs Manager Craig Draeger and Commissioner of Internal Affairs Mark Preston visited the coordinators of OPIRG and the Levana Gender Advocacy Centre—Kavita Bissoondial and Vlada Bilyak—to inform them of the committee’s decision.

Throughout the thirty minute long meeting that followed, both coordinators read the notice and were given opportunity to comment and make any inquiries about the letter or the process that had occurred. They were also informed that they would be able to follow up with any member of the committee after they had the opportunity to consult their memberships and other relevant parties.

Once the letter had been delivered, we anticipated further contact and meetings with the groups to elaborate on our decisions and come to a mutual understanding about them. Subsequent meetings have not been requested, but the AMS has ensured a meeting has been scheduled between the Space Allocation Committee, the Coordinators of OPIRG and the Levana Gender Advocacy Centre, and an AMS coordinated neutral third-party witness early next week.

Jurisdiction of ‘Shared Space:’

With the proceedings underway, the AMS was alerted to a previously unknown policy contradiction by the Society of Graduate and Professional Students (SGPS) which changed the nature of the space allocation committee’s decision regarding 51 Bader Lane. As confirmed by the Operations and Management agreement (O&M) — signed in April of 2011 and entered into by the AMS, SGPS and University— the space in question was not solely under the jurisdiction of the AMS and therefore, needed joint consultation in deciding its space usage. As a result, the AMS policies applied by the Club Space Allocation Committee needed to act in conjunction with the O&M guidelines.  However, the O&M has not established a space allocation guideline for shared space that overrides AMS and SGPS policies.  As a result, it falls to the AMS and SGPS to separately determine if a group satisfies their individual society’s eligibility requirements.  In the cases of OPIRG and the Levana Gender Advocacy Centre, by AMS policy they are not eligible for AMS space, exclusive, shared or otherwise.  Given the circumstances, the Space Allocation Committee is willing to offer a temporary extension for re-ratification and, subsequently, the space allocation request deadline. This has been the central contentious issue of the dispute; re-ratification and successful space allocation request would result in a satisfaction of AMS eligibility requirements.

Any space allocation request submitted by the clubs upon re-ratification will be reviewed with the same approach previous applications received. To ensure the Committee’s objective is soundly applied and in-tact, the AMS has invited a non-AMS, neutral witness to observe the deliberations. 

The Situation of the Education on Queer Issues Project Committee (EQuIP):

Some members have inquired into the relocation of the AMS committee EQuIP from the Grey House.  In accordance with AMS policies, the Space Allocation Committee informed EQuIP that, as an AMS committee, they are not eligible to hold AMS club space.  The purpose of this policy stipulation is to ensure that AMS club space is reserved for non-AMS run clubs and that AMS committees, which have wider access to resources such as AMS space and funding, do not exhaust resources otherwise reserved for AMS ratified clubs.

The Space Allocation Committee has explored a number of possible proposals for AMS non-club space throughout the summer and is committed to working with the Social Issues Commission, which oversees the EQuIP committee, to ensure that EQuIP’s needs and the needs of students served by EQuIP are appropriately met using AMS exclusive resources.  The Space Allocation Committee views this as an opportunity to work in conjunction with the Social Issues Commission and the chair of the EQuIP committee to provide accessible, confidential space to the committee’s executive and their resource library.

We encourage you to direct any additional questions or concerns to member of the Space Allocation Committee.

Kieran Slobodin
Vice-President (University Affairs)

Mark Preston
Commissioner of Internal Affairs
613-533-6000 ext. 74815 

Craig Draeger 
Clubs Manager
613-533-6000 ext. 77671

Gillian Shields
Student Centre Officer
613-533-6000 ext. 74847