The SFUO runs 12 service centres and four businesses while coordinating upwards of 250 clubs and about 20 federated bodies. Photo: Pixabay.
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Uncertainty continues on fate of service centres, clubs and healthcare plan

Nearly a month-and-a-half after the U of O announced its plan to terminate its agreement with the Student Federation of the University of Ottawa (SFUO), upwards of 36,000 undergraduate students are still in the dark on whether a number of key services and activities will continue to exist come Dec. 24.

The SFUO declared in a press release signed by executives that it will continue providing services on campus, but it’s unclear how this would be possible. If the U of O does go through with its move to terminate the contract, money collected by the university from students would no longer be transferred to the SFUO for its use.  

This leaves the future of the SFUO’s 12 service centres, including the Peer Help Centre and Foot Patrol, and four businesses, Pivik, Café Alt, Agora Bookstore and 1848, uncertain at best.

Paige Booth, SFUO acting-president, said she hopes the results of the audit will help clear the mist surrounding the fate of these services and businesses.

“Through the new changes we’re going to make through whatever happens with the forensic audit and the recommendations we adopt, we’re hoping that will allow us to remain (on campus),” Booth said. “It’s important to have student-run businesses and student jobs on campus and we employ a lot of students, close to 200.”

Several employees told the Fulcrum that the SFUO is not allowing employees of both service centres or businesses, who may have their jobs on the line, to speak to the media. They would say that they have yet to be given information on the future of their employment.  

Students who use these services shared their anxieties.

“What’s going to happen to the services so many students rely on, like the Food Bank … the Pride Centre, the Women’s Rights Centre, the International House, the Centre for Students with Disabilities?” asked Emily McBain Ashfield, a first-year common law student and former BOA member. “There are so many services of the SFUO that students are relying on every day.”

The more than 250 clubs and about 20 federated bodies the SFUO coordinates could also be caught in the crossfire of the SFUO-U of O contract termination.

Clubs use the SFUO mainly for their room booking service, storage space and insurance. But another key benefit to registering as a club through the SFUO is a spot on the master club directory that students use to find and join clubs.

Mira Nemr, president of the Lebanese Cultural Club, spoke to how her club is suffering.

“Next semester, (we’ll) technically cease to exist,” she said. “We won’t be able to table for future events, sell tickets for future events.”

The loss of funding from the SFUO is also taking a toll on Nemr’s club that is currently working to organize a gala.

“We’re going around finding sponsors in the city that are hopefully willing to give us a little bit of money and we’ve also raised ticket prices,” she explained, listing off charges for a DJ, photo booth, rental hall, photographer, and food. “There’s so many expenses that add up.”

Meanwhile, federated bodies, which represent programs and faculties at the U of O, use funds from the SFUO to organize events at the departmental level, especially their own unique 101 week. Taylor Sullivan, president of the International, Political and Policies Studies Student Association (IPPSSA), told the Fulcrum that federated bodies have decided not to comment on the potential termination and its impacts until the results of the forensic audit are released.

Justin Abraham, a management information systems and analytics student, said his program’s federated body, the Telfer Student Council, told students they have money saved to support students for the time being.

“In a way (the potential termination) won’t affect us now per se, (but) it might … a year or two down the line.”

Another area of concern for students is the fate of the healthcare plan offered through membership with the SFUO. The university said it will cover the plan until the end of August 2019, but after that it’s unclear if the service will continue to be provided.

The U of O media relations department declined to clarify, directing the Fulcrum to a press release that states the university “will take steps to ensure that the health and wellness of our students is not compromised.”

The plan covers prescription mediation, professional services, vision care, medical items, emergency transportation, travel insurance, and dental services, according to the SFUO’s website. Students without workplace or family insurance could potentially have to carry the burden of these extra charges.

“My parents don’t have coverage through work, so the dental and vision services have been a real lifesaver for me,” said Serena Dossani, a first-year commerce student at the U of O.

“Student life is busy and having health care provided is just one less thing to worry about,” added Nadia Vladco, a first-year political science student.

Other students questioned if the university should have acted earlier, or if it should have even intervened in the first place.

“The university should have … monitored (the situation) so they had the chance to interfere before it (was) too late and lost all our money,” said Asma Dawod, a fourth-year biomedical science student.

On the other hand, a third-year law student at the U of O who asked not to be named said the university’s move concerned her even more.

“The SFUO is a mess, but terminating the agreement sets a very bad precedent for how unions and universities interact,” she told the Fulcrum in an interview. “The snowball effect of (the potential termination) is going to be really unfortunate for students.”

“On a macro level it’s kind of a blow to student rights,” she said, pointing to other ways she thinks the university could have acted. “When a union self-implodes you can fire the people involved, you can redraft an agreement, you can work with the people involved in the system who are interested in student rights.”

Transit passes will not be impacted by the potential termination, as they are governed by a separate agreement between the university and the City.