One of the Students’ Union’s primary sources of revenue is up for grabs.
Negotiations over the MacEwan Student Centre lease started last month between the University of Calgary administration, Students’ Union and the Graduate Students’ Association. Under the current lease — which will end in December 2014 — the SU operates most of the building, making it a large source of the undergraduate organization’s current revenue.
“Who owns the building is still in contention. As far as the university is concerned, they own it and the SU leases from them,” said SU vice-president operations and finance Eric Termuende. “But at the end of the day, this is a huge agreement potentially worth hundreds of millions over the next 15 years.”
Under the current lease, the SU reaps huge revenues from businesses such as food vendors, concert halls, conference rooms and bars. From conferences alone, the SU expects to make $2.3 million in 2014.
Termuende said that as a non-profit organization, no one at the SU makes more money when revenues are high. Instead, he insisted that all revenue and profit is used to pay for student services.
“Every cent that we make goes right back to students. It’s not like we’re sitting on piles of money,” Termuende said. “The students are still invested in this building, invested in its potential. It’s really important to know that every dime that they put into this building goes back to it.”
Few student unions in Canada control buildings comparable to the MSC. This has allowed the SU to keep student fees at $34.50 for the past 17 years while bringing in levels of revenue comparable to much larger universities. For example, the U of C SU brings in around $2 million more in revenue per year than the University of Alberta’s Students’ Union, despite the U of A having approximately 6,600 more undergraduate students and higher fees. U of A’s SU charges a student fee of $37.50 for the fall and winter semesters.
If the SU loses control of MacHall, undergraduate students will likely pay higher fees for fewer services.
“These agreements were in place for one reason — because they worked,” Termuende said. “[The SU] fought tooth and nail to have the space that we have to represent the students that put us in office.”
During the first negotiation meeting in September, the SU was surprised to see the GSA in attendance. As far as the SU is concerned, the GSA is a “third party” and the negotiations should be between the SU and the administration.
“Until [the SU] understands the issues with this agreement that is only between us and the university, there’s no point in having a third party,” Termuende said. “That’s like bringing Subway or Kobe Beef into the meeting and letting them sit in. It’s unnecessary when the agreement is not with them.”
Right now, the Last Defence Lounge is the only business the GSA operates in MacHall.
According to GSA president Sarah Akierman, the GSA views MacHall as a building for all students, not just undergrads.
“For us, we see [MacHall] as the student building. It hosts all the student services,” Akierman said. “What we want to do is have a model that has both groups at the table that have say and input when it comes to those student services. What that’s going to look like, I’m not sure.”
Akierman said that the U of C’s graduate population has grown considerably since the last agreement was signed in 1999, making the GSA a legitimate player in the talks.
“When you think of the lease agreement when it was first signed, the graduate student population was very small. Not only that, in terms of student representation from the GSA, it was very small,” Akierman said. “[The GSA] was just not ready to be a player at the table. As time has gone on that has definitely changed. Our students have been concerned that because [the lease agreement] has been a process between the SU and the university and that we haven’t actually been able to be a part of the conversation.”
Akierman said the GSA just wants fair representation for graduate students in terms of access to services.
“There are two student bodies on this campus,” she said.
U of C administration declined commenting on the negotiations, saying it was too early to talk.