The University of Manitoba Students’ Union (UMSU) is still in the process of determining how much they owe to the Canadian Federation of Students (CFS) in outstanding fees after a protracted dispute prompted the union to withhold up to $650,000 from the national organization.
The dispute between the two groups revolved around possession of the Web domain name umsu.ca. However, that dispute has since been resolved, with the domain transferred to the union in March. Despite this resolution, UMSU continues to withhold outstanding fees from the CFS.
According to Jeremiah Kopp, UMSU president, the dispute now has to do with the amount owing. During an October council meeting, Kopp said UMSU estimates the amount at $450,000, while the CFS pegs it at roughly $650,000.
While Kopp told council that differences over the amount owing were settled during the CFS national annual general meeting held on Nov. 22, a resolution has proved elusive.
“No formal agreement has been reached, but we are close and will seek to reach one as soon as possible,” Kopp told the Manitoban in an email.
“CFS has now supplied us with what looks like accurate numbers at first glance, based on two and a half terms of outstanding fees. Our finance staff will review the quotes and provide their feedback. If both parties’ assessments correspond, we will proceed with payment.”
UMSU collects fees from students for both its own operations as well as fees intended exclusively for the CFS. These funds are then transferred to the national union and its regional counterpart, the Canadian Federation of Students-Manitoba (CFS-MB). As such, the CFS bases its estimates of how much UMSU is withholding on the university’s enrolment statistics.
Earlier this year, the Manitoban reported that the amount owing was likely as much as $640,000. The fees include national CFS fees for the 2013-14 and 2014-15 academic years, as well as fees owed to CFS-MB for the same period. Fees from the fall term of the 2015-16 academic year, which have been collected by the university, were not included in this estimate.
According to Michael Barkman, chairperson for CFS-MB, those estimates have not changed substantially.
“From our point of view, with the numbers we got from the University of Manitoba’s website in terms of enrolment, it should be somewhere in the neighbourhood of $600,000,” he said. “But they are still figuring it out, based on their own calculations, at UMSU.”
Barkman emphasized the importance of having the U of M pay fees to the national organization and its regional counterpart.
“Almost 10 years ago now, students voted democratically to join the national movement of students and since that time the U of M has been really critical to the success of our campaigns, such as the last federal election campaign and the elimination of interest rates on student loans [in Manitoba],” Barkman said. “I think that the issue will be resolved in the coming months.”
Despite arguing that there is no tension between UMSU and the CFS, Kopp responded to questions about the union’s response to campus budget cuts by deriding the national organization.
The University of Manitoba will make another round of budget cuts after trimming four per cent from the operating budgets of most departments. These cuts amounted to $14.4 million out of the university’s $701 million operating budget.
The cuts have sparked protests on campus criticizing the university’s budget practices as endangering quality post-secondary education.
“These rallies are largely populated by external organizations like the CFS, organizers from the University of Winnipeg, students who identify as socialists and anarchists, and faculty that are heading into collective bargaining in the new year,” Kopp said in an email. “They are intent on sowing confusion and misinformation about the university’s budget process and its impacts on the student body for political gain.”
“Thankfully, the majority of university students take a more analytical and comprehensive view to the present financial climate because I am only interested in working constructively towards solutions, not scoring political points.”
Barkman did not respond to these specific accusations, saying only that opposing budget cuts is an important cause for students at the U of M and that CFS-MB will continue to be actively involved in protests and other activism.
“We have always advocated for accessible, affordable, and quality post-secondary education so the issue of the budget cuts fits within all of those areas,” he said.