KSA executives allocate themselves $10,000 each to ease ‘burden of tuition’
The tuition benefit for executive members was unanimously passed at a special meeting of council on Aug. 26
On Aug. 26, the Kwantlen Student Association held a special meeting of council to amend the benefits in their Regulations to include up to $10,000 tuition coverage for each executive member per year, which went into effect the same day.
President, VP University Affairs, and International Student Representative Armaan Dhillon, VP External Affairs and Langley Campus Rep Karan Singh, VP Finance and Operations and Students with Disabilities Rep Lesli Sangha, and former VP Student Life and Women’s Rep Manmeet Brar were present and unanimously approved the amendment. Policy Coordinator Diamond Obera was the speaker of council for the meeting and former Executive Director Ben Newsom was unable to attend.
The KSA is required to give two business days notice of every council meeting, according to their Regulations. Council passed a motion to suspend this requirement on the “basis that all Councillors have received notice and all are present at the meeting,” according to the meeting minutes. The Runner received less than a 24-hour notice of the meeting.
The Runner previously reported that the tuition reimbursement amount is limited to $10,000 per year for each executive member, excluding the first semester of the calendar year that an executive’s term on council starts.
“Service fees and penalty charges, including tuition adjustment penalties, not incurred as a direct result of enrolment in classes shall not be eligible for reimbursement,” reads the benefit in the updated Regulations.
Under the Regulations, changes to the honoraria or pay structure do not come into effect until April 1. In accordance with their bylaws, council approved a notwithstanding motion for the tuition benefit amendment to come into effect the same day it was approved.
This means council can “create, alter, or otherwise amend Regulations without notice and without a recommendation from the Governance Committee” if the motion receives unanimous consent of council members, according to KSA bylaws. At the time the motion was passed, Dhillon, Singh, Sangha, and Brar were the only council members of the KSA.
“This motion took four months of research, our legal counsel, our whole team of [the] executive secretary and executive director worked really hard to make this happen,” Dhillon said at the special meeting of council.
The Runner requested copies of the research on Dec. 13. The KSA declined to provide the research in an email on Jan. 9.
Executives’ email responses
“I have served as a KSA Executive since April 2021. For me, as a student with a disability, it has been both physically and mentally challenging. The Tuition Benefit policy reflects and appreciates the hard work that equity seeking groups, including students with disabilities, put into this job. Students with disabilities have been discriminated against in the past and, unfortunately, this continues. There is a stigma. We need to get past discrimination and defeat the stigma. Ensuring that students with disabilities can serve as executives at the KSA ensures a more diverse perspective, attracts talented student leaders from a diverse range of backgrounds, and will help overcome discrimination related issues,” Sangha said in an email statement. Sangha did not respond to interview requests.
“I started studying at Kwantlen in May of 2021. I learned about the KSA’s by-elections late in the year and became interested in serving on KSA Council. The first opportunity I had to run was in the Spring of 2022 and I was happy to be elected as the International Student Representative, but I did not fully understand the extent of work required as a KSA Executive. As we all know, International Student tuition fees are very high exceeding $33,000 per year. To pay my tuition, I have worked part-time at [a] number [of] jobs including, working at Amazon, working as a security guard, as a janitor, and as a parking enforcement officer, at times holding several part-jobs. The extent of responsibility at [the] KSA, unfortunately, resulted in me failing a number of courses in the summer semester. Between my work at KSA, and part-time work, I just did not have enough time for my studies. For international students to have an equal opportunity to serve on the KSA Executive, there has to be a reasonable level of compensation, otherwise international students will be unable to participate,” Dhillon said in an email response. Dhillon declined an interview.
“I have found that working as the VP External for the KSA has been demanding and time consuming. I am new to this job and I have not served as an executive of a student association before. The work of advocating for students is important. Being VP External requires considerable time to travel. For example, I have traveled to Victoria and Ottawa for government relations work and to Alberta and to Nova Scotia to meet with other student executives. At the beginning of my term as VP External, in order to pay my tuition, rent, and for food, I worked part-time in many jobs including at MacDonalds [sic], Amazon, in construction, as a security guard, and at a gas station. With the tuition benefit, that has allowed me to focus on my KSA responsibilities. Without the tuition benefit, I would have had to resign my position at the end of September in order to make ends meet,” Singh said in an email response. Singh declined an interview.
Brar, who resigned on Sept. 30 due to her graduation, did not respond to interview requests.
“Most international students pay between $6,836.83 – $11,376.81 per semester in tuition and mandatory student fees, as full-time students at KPU enrolled in 9-15 credits,” according to KPU’s website. This does not include the estimated living expenses of $7,800 per semester.
In a joint email statement to The Runner, executives said the KSA executive compensation hasn’t been adjusted for “many years and has not at all kept up with rising tuition fees and inflation.”
“The burden of tuition, especially for equity-seeking groups, makes it difficult to serve as an Executive of the KSA. All students should have the opportunity to serve the students of Kwantlen. In order to ensure that all students can financially afford to serve as an executive and to promote engagement of the student body, KSA Council decided to provide for a tuition benefit,” reads the statement.
According to KPU’s Submission on Public Post-Secondary Funding Formula Review published in June, 75 per cent of KPU students work while taking classes. Of that total, 39 per cent work 10 to 19 hours per week and 28 per cent work more than 20 hours per week.
Under the KSA Regulations, executives receive a biweekly stipend of $1,273.69, and the president receives $1,373.69 “in recognition of the additional time that they contribute to the work of the Society.” This approximately amounts to over $30,000 each year per executive, and under $33,000 per year for the president, and was last updated at a council meeting in 2018.
A motion was also passed at the 2018 council meeting for the salaries to be tied to positive increases in the provincial consumer price index (CPI) to “keep up with inflation,” and assumed an increase of two per cent per year, according to the executive compensation proposal by former President Tanvir Singh.
“This [tuition] benefit is being given by most of the student associations around Canada, and we wanted to bring in this benefit in line with those student associations to make education much more accessible and affordable for the student leaders who come forward to serve in the KSA,” Dhillon said at the special meeting of council.
Cape Breton University’s Students’ Union (SU) in Nova Scotia is one other student association in Canada that offers a tuition benefit for its executive members, which was passed in April.
For six credits per semester, the union president receives up to a total of $1,756.80. Vice presidents receive coverage for four credits per semester, up to a total of $1,171.08. The benefit does not include differential fees, lab fees, or other ancillary fees, and any more courses are not covered.
“I already give [sic] too much information about this to your president. I am too busy in other things, so I am respectfully declining to talk with you about it more,” SU President Damanpreet Singh wrote in an email response to The Runner’s request for an interview on Oct. 6.
On Sept. 22, The Runner requested a copy of all written consent and discussions of each ordinary resolution and special resolution as defined in the Societies Act between the executives with “tuition benefit” or any variation thereof within the text between May 1 and Sept. 22.
Under the Act, one of the definitions of an ordinary resolution is “a resolution consented to in writing, after being sent to all of the voting members, by at least [two-thirds] of the voting members,” and a definition for a special resolution is “a resolution consented to in writing by all of the voting members.”
“There was no meeting of the members of the KSA where an ‘ordinary resolution’ or ‘special resolution’, ‘as defined in the Act’, was considered. So, obviously there are no ordinary resolutions or special resolutions to provide to you under this request,” Dhillon wrote in an email response to The Runner.
According to the KSA Regulations, special meetings of council “shall be formally called by a Resolution of Council or by the joint written decision of five voting members of council.”
On Nov. 11, The Runner requested a copy of each record evidencing a disclosure of a conflict of interest pertaining to the KSA executive tuition benefit policy between May 1 and Nov. 10.
“We complied fully with all aspects of the Societies Act, KSA Bylaws, and Regulations,” reads the executives’ email statement.
Under Section 56 of the Societies Act, a “director” that has a material interest in a matter that conflicts with their duty of the society would need to disclose a conflict of interest and abstain from voting. However, the obligation does not apply to matters relating to payments to the director for acting in their position within the society.
“Elected officials and employees of the Society are expected to recuse themselves from participating in a decision, exercising an official power, or performing an official function when they are in a real or apparent conflict of interest,” according to the KSA Regulations.
In 2018, when the KSA council passed a motion to increase the executive position salaries, former executives Joseph Thorpe, Caitlin McCutchen, Munir Dossa, and David Piraquive “excused themselves due to an apparent conflict of interest,” according to the meeting minutes.
Since Dhillon, Singh, Sangha, and Brar were the only members of council at the time of the Aug. 26 special meeting of council, it’s unclear if the disclosure of a real or apparent conflict of interest was needed or if the motion should have opened up to students, who are members of the KSA.
“Under the Societies Act, KSA Bylaws, and KSA Regulations, KSA Council had the full legal authority to implement the tuition benefit. The KSA Regulations require that compensation be reviewed every three years at minimum, but due to the pandemic and other factors, no review has taken place in at least over 3 years. We sought to have changes in place in time for the fall semester, so we brought the proposed changes to Council at the earliest opportunity,” reads the executives’ email statement.
“Our decision [on the tuition benefit] has turned out to be very successful as many candidates decided to run in the recent by-election. We have gone from a 3-person Council to 17 in a single by-election. The KSA has not seen such active participation in many years. Now that we have more students involved on Council, we will review the policy to determine whether compensation should be further adjusted, or the current formula changed.”
Since the special meeting of council on Aug. 26, the tuition benefit has not been discussed in council or executive meetings.
“KSA will provide the Runner with documents that it is legally required to disclose to KSA members when a request has been made in writing and the legal basis for the request is identified. Generally, KSA will not disclose documents that it is not legally required to disclose to its members,” reads the executives’ email statement.
KSA records include “books, documents, maps, drawings, photographs, letters, vouchers, papers and any other thing on which information is recorded or stored by graphic, electronic, mechanical or other means,” under their Regulations. Records can be inspected by any member of the society, under KSA bylaws.
The Runner requested copies through the Autonomy Agreement, a legal agreement the KSA signed with the Polytechnic Ink Publishing Society (PIPS) in 2019, of documents for payment amounts, benefits, and hours worked for the KSA executives from June 1 to Nov. 1, and copies of legal invoices pertaining to The Runner’s information requests and emailed questions from Sept. 1 to Dec. 1.
Under the Autonomy Agreement, the KSA shall “guarantee PIPS right to access all KSA documents and records” and “legal and professional invoices” and “information about the hours, payments and benefits of KSA councillors,” excluding human resource matters, legal advice and in camera minutes.
“It is our interpretation that you do not have a basis for requesting these documents that are beyond what we legally must disclose to our members. Even if we assume that the provisions you rely on are valid, which we strongly question, we disagree that it captures the requested documents,” Dhillon said in the email response on Jan. 9.
“This Agreement will endure to the benefit of and be binding upon the parties hereto and their successors and permitted assigns,” according to the Agreement.
The Runner will provide updates as information becomes available.