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Governance 101

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Governance 101

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(Christopher Li / The McGill Tribune)

  STUDENTS' SOCIETY OF MCGILL UNIVERSITY

Who They Are

The Students’ Society of McGill University (SSMU) is the representative and governing body for all students pursuing undergraduate and professional degrees at McGill. Its base of operations is the University Centre—also known as the Shatner Building, named after a particularly famous graduate. From there, it organizes student events, oversees close to 300 clubs, and negotiates with other governance bodies—like the Senate and Board of Governors—on behalf of its constituents. 

What They Do

SSMU is led by seven student executives who are elected at the end of each academic year. The SSMU Executive mandate includes supervising undergraduate clubs and extracurricular activities, managing and ensuring the sustainability of Gerts and other long-term operations, advocating for student interests in the Senate, and planning social events, including Frosh. SSMU’s policies are decided at the Legislative Council, where the executives sit with 30 councillors who represent both faculties and extracurricular clubs. Any councillor can propose a motion, which is then voted on at Council and may become law. Additionally, several councillors deliberate McGill policies at the McGill Senate. The Judicial Board, which ensures that SSMU adheres to its constitution, is comprised of seven students, predominantly from the Faculty of Law. Undergraduate students can directly influence SSMU by attending its General Assemblies and Referendums, both of which are held once every semester. 

Recent Events

Last academic year, SSMU enacted policies to provide cost-free birth control coverage and menstrual products for students. It also supported Floor Fellows in successfully bargaining with McGill for a wage, in addition to the room and board they had received previously. At the end of the Winter 2017 semester there were a number of resignations within SSMU. In April, SSMU announced the permanent closure of its student-run cafeteria, Sadie’s, for financial reasons. Currently, SSMU is drafting a Gendered and Sexualized Violence Policy

  POSTGRADUATE STUDENTS' SOCIETY

Who They Are

The Postgraduate Students’ Society (PGSS) is an association that represents graduate students and postdoctoral fellows at McGill. The Society is led by six executive officers, six supporting administrative staff members, and five commissioners who assist officers with coordinating activities and implementing policies. PGSS Council is the Society’s highest governing body, and consists of elected students from each postgraduate student association (PGSA). Each PGSA has a number of seats on Council proportional to the size of its student population. To reach quorum, one third of the councillors must be present at Council. PGSS Council is responsible for ensuring that policies reflect the values of constituents, approving and amending the PGSS budget, and holding officers accountable for their actions. 

What They Do

PGSS representatives speak on behalf of postgraduates, meeting once a month to debate and vote on policies related to the Society’s long-term vision. Additionally, it liaisons with other governance bodies at McGill and beyond. Part of PGSS’ mandate is to provide an accessible social environment and improve the quality of student life for postgraduate students. In doing so, the executive plans events for students, including cocktails, meditation hours, and workshops, most of which take place at its headquarters, the Thomson House. 

Recent Events

In an April 2017 referendum, PGSS renewed its Health and Dental Plan to increase the services available for students such as dental preventative services and physiotherapy coverage. Over the past few years, PGSS has prioritized the development of an Orientation Week for its students. This year, the third annual PGSS Orientation will conclude on Sept. 13, the programming for which includes pub and food crawls, a movie night, a barbecue, a Macdonald Campus Activity Day, and a bike tour. 

BOARD OF GOVERNORS

Who They Are

The McGill Board of Governors (BoG) is the university’s governing body, comprised of 25 voting members and two non-voting student observers. The voting members include two administrative staff—Principal and Vice-Chancellor Suzanne Fortier and Chancellor Michael Meighen—two professors, two Senate representatives, three Alumni Association representatives, two professors, and two administrative and support staff representatives. Two students are voting members of the BoG: SSMU President Muna Tojiboeva and PGSS President Jacob Lavigne. Student observers from the McGill Association of Continuing Education Students (MACES) and the Macdonald Campus Students’ Society (MCSS) sit on the BoG as non-voting members. 

What They Do

The BoG serves as the final authority over all of the university’s academic, business, and financial affairs, and is responsible for the maintenance and administration of daily activities at McGill. The BoG is comprised of eight standing committees, including the Building and Property committee, the Finance committee, and the Committee to Advise on Matters of Social Responsibility. The BoG is scheduled to meet five times over this upcoming school year.

Recent Events

Over the course of 2016, the BoG held several open forums during which students were invited to voice their concerns over administrative decisions. Most notably, the Open Forum on Sustainability was held in September 2016 to address student concerns over the campus’ carbon footprint after the BoG’s vote against divesting from fossil fuel companies. The BoG also held a closed session on May 25 of this year, during which they voted to reappoint Principal and Vice-Chancellor Suzanne Fortier for a second five-year term, set to begin July 1, 2018.

SENATE

Who They Are

The Senate governs all academic policy at McGill, and includes representatives from all of McGill’s constituent groups, including students, faculty, staff, administrators, members of the Board of Governors, and alumni. Members of the Senate, called “Fellows,” are either elected, appointed, or given membership based on their office. Of the 21 student senators, 13 are elected by SSMU, including the SSMU President and Vice-President University Affairs. The remaining eight include two members of MACES, one member of MCSS, and five members of the PGSS, including a single postdoctoral scholar. 

What They Do

The Senate is mandated to govern academic policies, such as the development of curricula, regulations for admissions, and requirements for degrees, diplomas, and certificates. It additionally takes on a much broader role at McGill, including managing the university's libraries, developing its infrastructure, and administering Student Services. The Senate is comprised of nine standing committees, which include the Senate Steering Committee, the Committee on Libraries, and the Honorary Degrees and Convocations Committee. The Senate meets on a monthly basis, with its first session in September and its last in May. During Senate meetings, standing committees deliver reports, senators hold Question and Response sessions, and senators vote on policies and nominations.

Recent Events

On Nov 23, 2016, the Senate unanimously approved a Policy Against Sexual Violence, the first policy of its kind in McGill’s history. The policy defines sexual violence and creates university infrastructure for disclosing, reporting, and responding to such incidents at McGill. In May 2017, the Senate delivered a number of revisions and expansions to the Policy on Harassment, Sexual Harassment and Discrimination Prohibited by Law and approved appointments to many staffed positions created by the Policy, most notably eight Assessors tasked with the intake and management of reports of sexual harassment.

McGill Governance 101

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(Hayley Mortin / McGill Tribune)

McGill University has an extensive system of governance bodies that manage its affairs from the undergraduate level up to administration. Making sense of this immensely complicated system is challenging to the untrained student, so we’re here to help you understand the who’s and what’s of this year’s campus politics. 

SSMU

Who they are and what they do 
The Students’ Society of McGill University (SSMU) represents all undergraduate students at McGill, as well as students in professional degree programs, including law, dentistry, and medicine. SSMU advocates on behalf of students to the administration, and to provincial and federal governments, manages services such as student groups and minicourses, and operates businesses such as Gert’s and the Student-Run Cafeteria (SRC). 

SSMU is led by seven executives who are elected annually during the Winter semester. The Legislative Council is the legislative body of SSMU, and consists of the executives and 30 councillors elected from faculty associations and certain student demographic groups, such as First Year Council. The Legislative Council is responsible for large-scale policy and decisions pertaining to the society’s finances. At least once a semester, members of the society have the opportunity to vote in referenda and participate in General Assemblies, with the resulting policies decided through these platforms becoming SSMU regulations. 

The SSMU Judicial Board (J-Board) consists of seven students, most of whom are from the Faculty of Law. They make rulings on cases in which any individual, organization, or referendum associated with the society is alleged to have violated the SSMU Constitution or Bylaws. Decisions of the J-Board can only be overturned by a four-fifths majority vote by SSMU’s Board of Directors.

Recent actions 

Last year, SSMU Council passed a Policy on Indigenous Solidarity that laid out ways in which the society can pursue its social justice goals for indigenous students. Council also passed a new climate change policy. In the Winter 2017 referendum, students voted to add a seventh executive portfolio and to redistribute responsibilities among the executives. A motion to increase the society’s budget failed leading to a round of budget cuts. 

On the agenda this year 

This is the first year that SSMU has a Vice President (VP) Operations, and a VP Student Life. The roles of most of the executives have been adjusted as well, so it will be a year of precedent-setting for these student leaders. Furthermore, the executives are faced with the added challenge of operating the SSMU on a smaller budget. The SSMU Sexual Assault Policy Working Group’s policy was recently rejected by the administration, ensuring this year will see extensive discussions on the creation of a new policy proposal. Furthermore, the J-Board recently ruled against divisive motions, such as last year’s motion in support of Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) against Israel, a decision that is sure to be the subject of discussion in coming months.

PGSS

Who they are and what they do 

The Postgraduate Students’ Society (PGSS) represents all graduate students and postdoctoral students. It is comprised of six executives, four commissioners, and eight staff members, who advocate for postgraduates at the university, provincial, and federal levels. The PGSS is housed in Thompson House, and is a source of social activities and support for its members. PGSS Council is the governing body of the society and meets monthly to vote on policies pertaining to the long-term vision of the society. Councillors are elected from various postgraduate faculties and student groups.

Recent actions 

Last year, PGSS Council unanimously passed a motion calling on McGill to divest from oil and gas industries. Additionally a traditional territory acknowledgement that will be displayed predominantly on the PGSS website and be read before each Council meeting was approved. PGSS has just completed its second graduate student orientation, which featured expanded programming. 

On the agenda this year 

This year, PGSS executives have promised to focus on the political role of the society, increasing their representation in activism on issues approved by their constituency. This includes increased emphasis on environmental sustainability initiatives. Expanding programming for graduate student orientation will likely be a focus as the new program continues to find success. 

McGill Senate 

Who they are and what they do 

The McGill Senate is an administrative body with jurisdiction over the academic policy of the university. It serves as a platform for representation at the administrative level. There are 107 voting members, including professors, support staff, students, SSMU executives, and representatives from McGill’s senior administration. Thirteen student senators are elected annually to represent each academic faculty. The Senate has multiple committees on specialized issue areas that advise on policy such as honorary degree recipients, enrollment, and student affairs. 

Recent actions 

Last year, the Senate passed a motion to establish a statement on academic freedom intended to reaffirm McGill’s commitment to research. They also extensively discussed tuition deregulation and a new commitment to increasing funding for refugee students

On the agenda this year 

Last year, the Senate deferred $1.3 billion of maintenance upgrades to campus buildings, renovations that will most likely be a topic of discussion again this year. The Senate will make further revisions to the Student Assessment Policy.

McGill Board of Governors 

Who they are and what they do 

The McGill Board of Governors (BoG) has final authority over all university affairs. It is comprised of 25 voting members, including one representative each from PGSS and SSMU, and members of senior administration, as well as two non-voting student observers. The Board manages all university property, appointments of personnel, management of investments and finances, ethics and human resources. Usually, the board meets six times per year. 

Recent actions 

Last year, the BoG voted not to divest university investments from fossil fuel companies, a decision that was met by student and alumni backlash. They also launched a study into the acquisition of the Royal Victoria Hospital (RVH) and how it can be turned into classroom space. 

On the agenda this year

The acquisition of the RVH site, as well as divestment from fossil fuel companies and ethical investment, are sure to be continued subjects of conversation for the BoG this year. Given the provincial government’s continuing austerity programs, limitations of the university budget will likely be debated. 

McGill 101: An introduction to campus governance

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McGill University Arts Building
(Hayley Mortin / McGill Tribune)

With nearly 50,000 students, faculty members, and employees, McGill University has a comprehensive system of governance. Here's your introduction to the administrative structure at McGill, with a deeper look at SSMU, PGSS, McGill's Senate, and the McGill Board of Governors.

SSMU

Who they are

The Students’ Society of McGill University (SSMU) represents all undergraduate students on the downtown campus. It also advocates for students’ interests to the university at large, and at the provincial and federal levels for issues such as affordable and high-quality higher education.

What they do

SSMU provides many services to undergraduate students, including support and administration of student clubs, the Student-Run Cafeteria (SRC), mini courses, and Gerts Bar. SSMU is also a governing body for undergraduate students. Its Legislative Council is the legislative body for undergraduate students, and is comprised of six executives and councillors elected from various student constituencies. SSMU also sends 13 senators to the Senate to represent members in the university legislative process. At least once a semester, SSMU holds a General Assembly (GA) which allows its constituents to debate and vote on changes to the society.

Recent accomplishments

ation alongside The Nest. This new cafeteria will provide expanded food options as well as employment opportunities for students. Last year, the Legislative Council passed a motion to increase support of the Peer Support Network by assisting in the establishment of a permanent space for the group in order to increase mental health resource options for students. 

PGSS

Who they are

The Post-Graduate Students’ Society (PGSS) represents graduate students and post-doctoral fellows to the McGill administration and to various groups at the provincial and federal level. It is comprised of six executives, four commissioners, and eight staff members charged with various responsibilities.

What they do 

PGSS Council governs PGSS activities and sets policy. It is made up of representatives from various faculties, and meets monthly. PGSS also holds general meetings and social actvities for graduate students. They run the Thomson House, a restaurant and bar for members that also hosts many events. PGSS also provides various services, including health plans and family programs. It is a support organization for graduate students, and provides many resources for getting the most from a McGill education, while also advocating on behalf of students to external organizations.

Recent accomplishments

Last year, PGSS finished a three-year campaign lobbying the University to reduce international student health care plan prices. The campaign successfully successfully lowered healthcare costs for all international students at McGill.

Senate

Who they are

Senate is an administrative body with jurisdiction over academic policy, and serves as a forum for a broad representation of voices within the McGill community. Among  the Senate’s 107 voting members are faculty deans, representatives from the Board of Governors, professors, support staff, students, and representatives from McGill’s senior administration. Thirteen student senators are elected each spring to represent each academic faculty, while four members represent the PGSS.  

What they do

The Senate includes nine standing subcommittees; among them are the Joint Board-Senate Committee on Equity, the Committee on Student Services, and the Honourary Degree and Convocations Committee.  There are a number of additional committees  focused on university regulations, such as the Advisory Council on the Charter of Students’ Rights, and the Committee on Student Discipline. Senate meets monthly during the academic year on Wednesdays, beginning at 2:30 p.m. in room 232 of the Leacock Building. The meetings are usually open to the general public, as well as available to watch via a livestream on the Senate website.

Recent accomplishments

In January, 2015, the Senate passed a motion implementing a new policy allowing students in extreme situations, such as mental or physical illness, to withdraw from all courses they took in a semester without this action being marked on their transcript. This action, advocated for by student Senators, directly impacts those students experiencing extenuating circumstances.  In 2013, the Senate approved a resolution taking an official position against Bill 60, the Quebec charter of values. This action on their part would ensure that if the Bill were passed, McGill University would not take disciplinary measures against individuals in violation of it.

McGill Board of Governors

Who they are

McGill’s Board of Governors is the governing body of the University. It has final authority over all of McGill’s conduct and affairs. The Board is composed of two student observers and 25 voting members— including Principal Suzanne Fortier, Chancellor Michael Meighen, 12 members at large, three alumni representatives, two academic staff representatives, two administrative staff representatives, and two student representatives, one each from SSMU and PGSS. The two student observers, who come from the Macdonald Campus Students’ Society and the McGill Association of Continuing Studies, sit in on Board meetings but cannot vote.

What they do

The Board is the trustee of all university property, making them responsible for maintenance and administration. The Board also oversees the appointment of university personnel, including the principal, and determines their salaries and benefits. In addition to this, University finances, investments, ethics and human resources falls under their jurisdiction. The Board’s authority and extent of its power are outlined in McGill’s statues. With meetings generally held six times per year, all members of the McGill community are invited to attend open session Board meetings. The first board meeting of the 2015-2016 school year will be held on Oct. 8 at 4:00 p.m. 

Recent accomplishments

During the Board’s final meeting of the 2014-2015 academic year, the Declaration of Compliance to Quebec Treasury Board Pursuant to Loi 65.1 was passed.  This motion requires the University to make public any contract it enters into above $25,000. Students, staff, and the public can now access this information through the McGill website and see who the University has contracts with. 

This article is a part of our McGill 101 issue, which aims to ease your transition and answer questions you have about McGill and Montreal.

SSMU Legislative Council discusses committee on governance reform

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(Kendall McGowan / The McGill Tribune)

At its Nov. 16 meeting, the Students’ Society of McGill University (SSMU) Legislative Council passed the Motion for Nominating Committee of the Board of Directors to Undertake the Selection of Future Board Members Anonymously and the Motion to Amend the Standing Rules to ease the deadlines for presenting motions. Faculty Councillor Anthony Koch was nominated to sit on the Special Committee on Anti-Semitism, which will report to Council in Winter 2018.

Ollivier Dyens and Council talk Governance reform

The first major topic of the session was governance reform. Ollivier Dyens, deputy provost (Student Life and Learning), spoke to Council on this matter before the call to order.

Dyens explained that responsibility for student mental health falls not only on the university, but on students, who must work to cultivate a supportive environment for each other. To Dyens, clarifying SSMU’s constitution is essential to reducing conflicts between students. He suggested hiring an external party to lead the charge in reforming SSMU’s governance structure.

“You guys are going through a turbulent period,” Dyens said. “Your own constitution seems to be, at certain moments, unclear [….] As a university, we want to see SSMU survive. We want to see SSMU together, and being a place where things are healthy for students and debate.”

Council later debated the Motion to Call a Special Referendum Period, which proposed an additional referendum later this month to consider a question regarding constitutional reforms. As the mover of the motion, SSMU Vice-President (VP) External Connor Spencer conceded that the question should be moved to the Winter 2018 Referendum, following concerns over voter burnout within SSMU’s membership. In the interim, she called for Council to commit to starting a larger conversation on governance reform in order to prevent similar issues from recurring every year.

“We need to start having a very large and very long conversation about what governance at SSMU is, and what we’re expecting, and where all the holes are,” Spencer said. “I would really like to pitch […] a commitment to start a larger conversation about [SSMU’s governance structure within…] this body, because we’re all the elected representatives from all the different faculties, and we can make sure our students’ voices are heard within that.”

Following the debate, rules were suspended to add a Motion to Investigate a Committee on Governance Reform, which carried. Council decided that executives and councillors would first look into the options available for starting the process of governance reform, and then determine whether creating an internal committee would be the best solution. VP University Affairs Isabelle Oke explained her stance that more research is necessary before a committee is formed.

“Committees as a first step are one option, [but] I don’t think it’s our only option moving forward,” Oke said. “What I’m suggesting is some kind of mandate, for somebody […] to put together all of the options that we can actually take as a council moving forward, and what resources we’re working with as well.”

Motion for selecting future Board of Directors members anonymously passes

Council voted to remove applicants’ names from applications for future Board of Directors (BoD) seats, through every step of the nominating process until the interview stage. The motion passed with 27 votes in favour, with an amendment added to remove other identifying information irrelevant to the applicant’s qualifications for the position.

While discussing this motion, Council members advocated for the additional need to create a broader policy on hiring processes, which it does not have. SSMU is seeking to fill an equitable hiring position to investigate current hiring practices and alter them for accessibility and transparency.

“This [motion] is an interim step to try and deal with all of the cases that come to the Society now until we have the research that will help us have more rigorous and sustainable practices in our Society,” Oke said.

 

Editorial 101: The process behind an editorial

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Every Friday, the Tribune’s editorial board meets to plan our editorial for the coming issue. We start with a range of ideas, and ultimately focus on the one that seems to us to be the most relevant, controversial, and interesting. We then discuss, each member bringing forward individual perspectives, but all the same aiming to reach group consensus. For this special issue, we take you behind the scenes of our editorial board discussion with an annotated editorial. Please see the image on the left to see the full version.

Click to see the full 'deconstructed' feature!
Click to see the full ‘deconstructed’ feature!

By the time that this editorial goes to press, the Parti Québécois’ (PQ) long-awaited Summit on Higher Education—being held on Feb. 25 and 26—will have come and gone. The Summit, announced upon the PQ’s electoral victory in September, promised open and sincere discussion on education policy that had the potential to produce immensely constructive results. Unfortunately, much of the optimism that met the initial announcement has died down; the poor communication, planning, and a range of other issues leading up to the event have greatly hampered the likelihood that the Summit will fulfill its full potential.

Although some election promises, such as the PQ’s inflexible approach to issues of language and culture, were immediately at the forefront of its agenda, the summit took much longer to materialize than most expected. Until very recently, it was only referred to by the government in the vaguest of terms: the date and location were not announced for months; parties attending the summit were only told what would be on the agenda immediately before the pre-summit consultations; even now, on the French-only website that has been put together for the event, information is extremely difficult to find, and does not show the time and location of the Summit on the front page. More than anything, the Summit looks as though it has been thrown together at the last minute, a trait that is seeming increasingly common for the PQ’s style of governance.

The nature of a minority government is such that its future is always uncertain; there is a constant need to make concessions, and satisfy enough of the opposition to remain in power. This government’s actions since being elected, however, go further than this. It seems to act with no eye to the future, simply reacting to the problem at hand. In December, the PQ announced of $140 million in funding cuts to universities across the province. They were unveiled with no prior warning to stakeholders, and shortly after the announcement of the PQ’s budget. This budget seemed to make a point not to take money from post-secondary education, and continued to herald the PQ’s implementation of a tution freeze. Once again, a lack of communication made the situation much worse than it might otherwise have been, as stakeholders scrambled to react.

Although the amount and timing of the cuts are proving catastrophic to schools—especially those like McGill that were already encountering budgetary problems—it is not all that much money for a government in the grand scheme of things. If the government viewed education as a priority, there are other places this money could have come from which would have had a less immediate and crippling impact. One example that springs to mind is the Plan Nord, which has seen none of its $2.1 billion in government funding face cuts. Ultimately, $140 million is small when dealing with billion-dollar budgets.

The cuts will inevitably shape the discussion at this week’s summit. They essentially conveyed the message, before discussions even began, that extended funding to schools is off the table. The same has been said about the possibility of a discussion on free tuition, with Minister of Higher Education Pierre Duchesne dismissing the idea only weeks before the Summit. If matters like these are not even part of the discussion, then the discussion is inevitably incomplete. The balance of power was established before the Summit even began, and the government has made it clear that it will only hear ideas to which it is already favourable.

All of this has culminated in a situation where no party approached the Summit with any real optimism as to what can be accomplished here. Whether the PQ truly doesn’t view education as a priority, or is simply finding itself overwhelmed with the realities of running a province, it has essentially doomed this Summit to failure, making little progress on deciding the future of Quebec’s education system. Although the PQ has recently seemed to equate ‘culture’ with ‘language,’ education has long been an integral part of Quebec culture. If this government chooses to neglect it, it will be writing off a large part of this province’s past—and of its future.

SSMU candidates wrestle with eroded student trust, building closure at debate

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(Audrey Carleton / The McGill Tribune)

The seven candidates for positions in the 2018-2019 Students’ Society of McGill University (SSMU) Executive Committee convened on March 13 for a debate hosted by Elections SSMU. Candidates for each of SSMU’s six executive portfolios presented their platforms, fielded student and press questions, and gave closing statements. Although the event was meant to be a structured debate between opposing candidates for the same positions, all five Vice President (VP) portfolios are running uncontested. The polling period begins March 19 and closes March 21 at 3 p.m., after which results will be announced.

VP Finance – Jun Wang

SSMU’s VP Finance manages the Society’s human resources and finances, which involves preparing a budget report and signing off on SSMU expenses.

Jun Wang, U2 Management and the sole candidate for the position, is running on a platform promising to restructure SSMU’s finances to promote the efficient allocation of funding, make funding more accessible, and improve transparency in the office.

“I believe [being a good] VP Finance is to understand student groups and to tackle the certain costs and inefficiencies in the system [in order] to streamline [and] meet student needs,” Wang said in his opening statement.

Wang aims to make the Executive Committee more transparent by introducing performance evaluations for each position. Wang also plans to share the VP Finance’s agenda in weekly memos posted on SSMU’s Accountability webpage.

“The weekly memos [would be] on simple activities like, ‘what did you do this week, who did you meet with, is there any projected funds that you talked about?’” Wang said. “Having this transparency on what people actually do posted on SSMU website […] will really show the student body what [SSMU is] actually using their funds for.”

VP Student Life – Sophia Esterle

The VP Student Life acts a liaison between SSMU and clubs, services, and independent student groups, in addition to working closely with SSMU’s mental health services and McGill’s Student Services.

Sophia Esterle, U2 Arts, who is running for the office uncontested, heavily underscored the role of the VP Student Life in promoting and collaborating with McGill’s mental health services in her platform.

“We need to be able to touch individual students who are suffering with mental health [ailments] directly, and so that is why […I would like to] have some counsellors that would be available to go to residences […or] at least have sharing sessions where students can talk about their mental health problems in residence,” Esterle said in her closing statement. “That would help destigmatize mental health [problems] because people would realize that the students around them are suffering too.”

Esterle also proposed creating a search engine on the SSMU website to help students find SSMU clubs and student groups that match their interests.

VP External – Marina Cupido

The VP External manages relations between SSMU and various non-McGill actors including the municipal and provincial governments, community organizations, and provincial student federations. The office is also responsible for organizing and mobilizing students for a variety of political causes.

At the debate, Marina Cupido, U4 Arts, whose bid for VP External is unopposed, explained her perspective on SSMU as a political institution.

“The reason I am running for this position is because, after spending four years reporting on SSMU  and student life at McGill[for The McGill Daily] […] I both developed a deep appreciation for what SSMU can and does offer to students and a deep frustration with all the ways in which […] SSMU is often inefficient and isolated,” Cupido said in her opening statement.

Cupido’s primary objective is to promote accessibility at many levels at McGill, with particular regard for Francophone students, Indigenous students, and students who require financial assistance. She also plans to devote resources to improving relations between long-term residents of the Milton-Parc community and McGill students, many of whom are temporary renters in the neighborhood.

“I would like to organize […] an event at which members of the community and McGill students could come together and […] become aware of all of the work that has been done, is being done, and can be done to facilitate relations between those communities,” Cupido said.

VP Internal – Matthew McLaughlin

SSMU’s VP Internal is in charge of communication between the Executive Committee and SSMU members as well as managing planning for large-scale events including Frosh, SSMU and MUS’ Halloween Party, and various other events including Faculty Olympics.

Matthew McLaughlin, U0 Management, who is running unchallenged, described his plans to improve a number of the committees within the VP Internal portfolio, including increasing training for members of the Students’ Society Programming Network and reforming First Year Council.

McLaughlin also expressed his commitment to finding alternative spaces for SSMU events in light of the impending closure of the University Centre.

“I think […we] can collaborate more between faculties,” Mclaughlin said. “We can use [the closure] as a chance to use the spaces in different faculties by fostering those relationships and leveraging them [….] Also, engaging with the Montreal community more broadly [is important]. This is a chance […] to connect with them as SSMU and use [Montreal] spaces to plan events as well.”

VP University Affairs – Jacob Shapiro

The VP University Affairs acts as a representative for undergraduate students in the McGill Senate and many of its committees, and is consulted by the administration regarding matters of academic policy and equity complaints.

Jacob Shapiro, U3 Arts, who also lacked a competitor, explained that his passion for teaching and learning motivated him to run for the office of VP University Affairs.

“Most people that know me know that I am animated and have a passion for education,” Shapiro said. “I think any position at SSMU […] is really about thinking about […] how [SSMU can] reduce the barriers so that we can have fairer, kinder, and more accessible education. That prompted me to run.”

Shapiro plans to maintain efforts by the current VP University Affairs Isabelle Oke to refocus the office’s mandate through constitutional reform.

“We need to have a system that is designed to represent students and that reminds itself it’s a student union,” Shapiro said. “I think the idea of having town halls and forums where people can engage with each other is on point.”

Although advocating for Open Educational Resources at McGill will be his top priority, he clarified that he hopes that reforms to the office’s mandate will allow him to advocate for a plurality of initiatives.

President – Corrine Bulger and Tre Mansdoerfer

SSMU’s President is the chief officer of the Society, a member of the student Senate Caucus, and the chair of both the Board of Directors (BoD) and the Executive Committee. The President also represents students at a number of administrative bodies, including McGill’s Board of Governors (BoG) and two committees of Senate.

Corrine Bulger, U2 Arts, is running on a platform of increasing the number of SSMU community spaces, following through with incumbents’ projects—including creating a SSMU sexual violence policy and improving relations with the Milton-Parc community—and making SSMU governance more accessible by incorporating multimedia.

Tre Mansdoerfer, U2 Engineering, wishes to develop closer relationships with faculty associations and increase their participation and representation in Senate, re-establish students’ trust in SSMU’s governance, and advocate for initiatives including a Fall reading week, improvements in mental health services, and redressing McGill’s Sexual Violence Policy.

Both Bulger and Mansdoerfer agreed that, as chair of the BoD, the President should be stripped of the power to vote and that the BoD’s membership should be broadened. However, while Mansdoerfer believes that the BoD should add an alumni director, Bulger contended that SSMU should add a non-McGill director with expertise in governance.

“We are a bunch of 20 year olds at the end of the day,” Bulger said. “We do not have the extensive experience [of] someone who has been in law, or who has been in banking as an accountant for years.”

Mansdoerfer noted that his experience serving in a variety of SSMU offices distinguishes him from Bulger.

“I think I’ve seen [SSMU] a bit more and I have a bit longer history [with] it,” Mansdoerfer said. “I [also] think I meet outside my faculty a lot more, and engage with a lot of different student groups on campus. I have strong relationships in most of the faculties through my work as student Senator and Council member.”

PGSS and McGill Athletics’ tensions addressed at Council

News/PGSS by
(Wendy Chen / The McGill Tribune)

At the Post-Graduate Students’ Society (PGSS) Council meeting on Feb. 21, councillors addressed the tenuous relationship between student federations and McGill Athletics and Recreation.  Francois Miller, manager of the McGill Office of Sustainability, also briefly presented the Vision 2020 sustainability strategy.

Following this, Council moved on to reviewing and approving the reports of PGSS financial affairs and member service officers. Finally, new business was briefly discussed, including the approval of a motion to ratify the Innovation Commissioner’s resignation.

 

Post-graduate involvement in McGill Athletics and Recreation

The McGill Athletics and Recreation Advisory Board (MARAB) is one of several committees advising various student services on campus. Jason Blakeburn, the PGSS representative on MARAB, opened the floor to discussion of what Athletics and Recreation can do to improve its services for the graduate student population. He cited the failure of the Winter 2017 fee levy referendum, which proposed a three per cent increase, raising the fee to $3.63 per term for postgraduates, as an indication of a tenuous relationship between Athletics and Recreation and the student body.

“[McGill Athletics and Recreation] realized last year, after the failed referendum, that there was a lack of trust, or transparency, or just communication going on, so they want to hear from grad students how we can better serve them,” Blakeburn said.

PGSS Financial Affairs Officer Matthew Satterthwaite, a former employee of McGill Athletics, voiced his concerns regarding the department’s organization and unnecessarily large employee costs.

“I would really like to see athletics […] maybe going through a process of really looking at their organizational structure, who’s accountable to who, [and] how many people do you actually need to do the jobs,” Satterthwaite said. “From an organizational standpoint there’s a lot of money wasted.”

Blakeburn closed the conversation with an invitation to PGSS members to reach out to him personally with further concerns.

 

Discussion concerning the prioritization of QSU over AVEQ continues

At its previous meeting on Jan. 17, PGSS tabled a discussion on affiliating with the Quebec Student Union (QSU) or the Association for the Voice of Education in Quebec (AVEQ), two provincial student federations that represent university student governments at the provincial and federal level. External Affairs Officer Hocine Slimani reopened the issue, standing firm in his position that, after careful review of both organizations, the QSU is better suited to serve the interests of members of the PGSS. Slimani also expressed his desire for PGSS to prioritize QSU affiliation in its upcoming referendum.

“It’s a bad idea to put two options on the ballot because people are not informed enough,” Slimani said. “Referendum questions […] should be yes or no questions. I think it is our job here, all of us as representatives, that we choose the option that will serve the best interests of our constituents.”

Slimani’s assertion that the graduate student populace is uninformed was met with criticism from members of the audience, including Bradley Por, a graduate student in the Faculty of Law. Por questioned Slimani’s impartiality and argued that the most democratic course of action would be to invite both groups to present before the PGSS at its annual general meeting (AGM) on April 11. Jacquie Safieh, a member of the Family Medicine Graduate Student Society (FMGSS), motioned to invite AVEQ to speak at the AGM but it failed to pass.

“My mandate was to prioritize the QSU,” Slimani said. “My frustration is that I am at the end of my mandate [which was] to come up with a referendum question […] and yet we are running in circles [….]”

After nearly 50 minutes of debate on the matter, Satterthwaite motioned to postpone discussion until the next PGSS Council meeting, to be held on March 21.

SSMU executives accused of mismanaging funds at council

News by
(Catherine Morrison / The McGill Tribune)

At the Students’ Society of McGill University (SSMU) Legislative Council meeting on Feb. 8, councillors discussed funding issues and a potential conflict of interest between SSMU executive members and the Association for the Voice of Education in Quebec (AVEQ). In addition, Council passed motions to renew the ECOLE project fee, de-gender SSMU’s language, and pressure the city of Montreal to hold consultations on systemic racism.

 

Accusations of improperly spent funds for AVEQ

During the announcements period, Vice-President (VP) Finance Esteban Herpin accused VP External Connor Spencer and VP University Affairs Isabelle Oke of mismanaging SSMU funding for AVEQ. In addition to imposing additional costs on SSMU members, Herpin believes these expenses could influence how students vote on motions involving AVEQ or the Union étudiante du Québec (EUQ) at the next SSMU referendum.

“In January, SSMU hosted a conference for AVEQ with the purpose of promoting AVEQ to other observing members,” Herpin said. “SSMU VP External and the VP University Affairs paid for it using their SSMU credit cards for over $4,000 of expenses, which consisted mostly of hotel rooms and food [.…] Nowhere in the SSMU operating budget were these funds approved or budgeted for. I believe that this is a severe transgression of the financial responsibility of these execs to owe the society and further this presents a serious financial conflict of interest between the society and AVEQ.”

In response to Herpin’s concerns, Oke admitted that the topic should have been brought up earlier. However, she also assured Council that she plans to include the transaction in her report on AVEQ and that the union informally agreed to reimburse SSMU.

“In terms of labelling it as a [conflict of interest], I’m not sure what personal gain I could get from it,” Oke said. “I think it was more an issue of checks and balances [….] In terms of potentially not getting paid back, that’s obviously going to be a potential issue whether we have a contract with AVEQ or not […] but AVEQ only hosts conferences at different school locations, so if they weren’t to pay us back it wouldn’t look good for their work moving forward.”

Nonetheless, Herpin noted that, in the meantime, AVEQ being informally indebted to SSMU gives it bargaining power.

“I think that this represents a conflict of interest as we are going to charge AVEQ for this and AVEQ now owes us $4,000,” Herpin said. “This sort of monetary liability to the society could be a point of pressure that AVEQ could push.”

 

Motion on Consultation on Systemic Racism in Montreal passes

Motions to renew the ECOLE project fee and pressure the city to conduct consultations on systemic racism passed unanimously, with the exception of one abstention from Councillor Danny Dinh on the degendering motion and after one amendment to the consultations on racism. Originally, the motion on Consultations on Systemic Racism in Montreal called for SSMU to put $1,000 toward publicizing a petition on the issue. Arts Senator Isabella Anderson’s proposed amendment changed the language of the funding clause from “of $1,000” to “up to $1,000.” Although Oke admitted she was not certain as of yet where the funding for this motion would come from, Herpin stated that he would look into the issue.

In response to  Engineering Councillor Vivian Campbell’s questions, VP Student Life Jemark Earle discussed the relocation of McGill clubs and services currently situated in SSMU. He intends to seek additional funds for the move in a motion at the next Legislative Council on Feb. 22.

“We are looking at bringing a motion next council in regards to amending the use of the club fund and the campus life fund,” Earle said. “Hopefully we can find space for clubs and services should they need to meet from the date the building closes until they’re able to enter the building and use the spaces again, because they are able to book it for free right now, and we don’t want to take that away from them.”

New SSMU researcher being hired to investigate McGill military research

McGill/News by
(McGill Reporter)

The Students’ Society of McGill University (SSMU) has begun the hiring process for a new staff position that will investigate and report on research into military technology carried out in McGill’s laboratories. The Harmful Military Technology Researcher will work for an hourly wage on average six hours a week reviewing documents related to military research conducted at the University. They will also deliver accessible reports to the student body on the topic.

“The Harmful Military Technology Researcher will analyze documents related to military research on campus, as obtained by students through Access to Information requests,” the job description reads. “They will be expected to compile summary results in order to inform future campaigns and popular education materials on these topics.”

SSMU is  mandated by its 2015 Policy for a Campus Free from Military Technology to oppose the development of military technology at McGill. The Policy obligates SSMU to oppose research into harmful military technology, and transparently consider its social responsibility when deciding research contracts. Vice-President (VP) External of SSMU, Connor Spencer, explained the role of the Researcher in an email to The McGill Tribune.

“This position was actually created by last year’s executive, but, from as far as we can see, [nobody] was never hired, or at least the research results were never collected,” Spencer wrote. “[The purpose of the position is] to figure out exactly what research is happening on campus in order to inform the students.”

Spencer referenced the importance of drawing attention to military research, as SSMU’s Policy for a Campus Free from Military Technology is set to expire in 2020.

“The VP University Affairs [Isabelle Oke] and I decided that it was important that we make sure that we have this research [on military technology at McGill] in order to inform a discussion amongst our members, as our policy is expiring and therefore will have to be brought to the next [General Assembly] to see if members want us to take a position again,” Spencer wrote.

Student opposition to military research is not unprecedented. In February 2016, a York University student group rallied at York’s Student Centre in protest of military research conducted on their campus.

At McGill, the student activist group Demilitarize McGill and similar movements have been pushing the University to divest from military research since the 1980s, according to the group’s website. McGill has been involved in research ranging from MK ULTRA’s drug and psychological experiments, to using powdered metals for energy, an experiment funded by Canada’s Department of Defense. Students less frequently use institutional channels like SSMU to voice their opposition to military research.

Chlöe Shahinian, U1 Arts, thinks the new SSMU position is a step in the right direction.

“If we want to be a university that is becoming increasingly conscious of our research and how that research can affect the world around us, I think that it is positive to have a position that will [investigate McGill’s research on] harmful military technology,” Shahinian said.

Others, like Brinton Wolever, U1 Management, worry that SSMU is overstepping its mandate.

“I don’t believe SSMU should be involved with external affairs,” Wolever said. “I also think it is a bit above a student union to declare what’s right and wrong as far as the use of military resources go.”

According to McGill Vice-President (Research and Innovation) Martha Crago, the administration recognizes SSMU’s right to create the position.

“The appropriateness of the new position […] is a question for SSMU, which is the body responsible for making this decision,” Crago wrote in an email to the Tribune.

Meanwhile, some staff have vocally supported such initiatives. Associate Professor Andrew Higgins of the Department of Mechanical Engineering conducts research in McGill’s Shock Wave Physics Group, which Demilitarize McGill describes as the university’s longest-standing military research lab. Higgins encourages efforts to promote an awareness of McGill’s research.

“I feel it is entirely appropriate for students to examine the research ongoing at their university,” Higgins wrote in an email to the Tribune. “In fact, I welcome it.”

Higgins’ findings about shockwaves and high-speed combustion have often gained the attention of the Canadian Department of National Defense, though he has not conducted any research in partnership with a defense contractor.

“I have never been involved in weapons contracts,” Higgins wrote. “As for indirect or unintended consequences, this is an issue for all research. Almost all research can be harmful, and students should certainly be aware of the research on-going on their campus.”

SSMU introduces new Gendered and Sexual Violence Policy with new coordinator

News/SSMU by
(ottawasun.com)

As of Jan. 8, Caitlin Salvino, chair of Our Turn, a national student group committed to preventing sexual violence on campuses and advocating for survivors, became the official Students’ Society of McGill University’s (SSMU) Gendered and Sexualized Violence Policy (GSVP) Coordinator. She aims to create a proactive policy to address sexual violence on campus and complement McGill’s Policy against Sexual Violence.

Although SSMU completed the first GSVP draft in July 2017 in accordance with the Community Disclosure Network’s (CDN) original timeline recommendations, initial consultations in Fall 2017 revealed students’ concerns over an underdeveloped survivor-focused framework and the lack of gender-based violence policies.

The CDN—a network for survivors of sexual and gendered violence to disclose their experiences and seek support—was established in February 2017 following incidents involving former SSMU executives. In response to the allegations, the CDN called for the creation of the GSVP and has continued to advise SSMU on relevant cases. According to a CDN member who wished to remain anonymous, the policy’s quality should take precedence over adherence to the proposed schedule.

Drafting policy like this takes time to do properly,” the member wrote. [The CDN feels] extremely confident in [Salvino’s] ability to take on this project. She is incredibly well-qualified for this work.”

Salvino will be holding open forums on Feb. 5 and Feb. 12 as well as community-specific consultations in the coming weeks to spark discussion on the policy. The new GSVP draft will be delivered to student groups in March and the final GSVP report will be published on May 31.

“Right now, we are doing consultations and researching into current [sexual and gendered violence] policies and provincial law,” Salvino said. “[Starting a new GSVP draft] is kind of about stepping back, speaking to as many people as possible from many communities, and trying to create a policy that is much more holistic.”

Priya Dube, U3 Arts, and Bee Khaleeli, U2 Arts, will work alongside Salvino as Gender and Sexual Violence Policy Advisors. Their positions will provide context on previous initiatives and recognize McGill student groups that work to address gendered and sexual violence, such as the Black Students’ Network (BSN). To BSN Vice-President (VP) Political Affairs Christelle Tessono, the GSVP is particularly important because people of colour are at greater risk of sexual violence, making it necessary for their perspective to be heard.

“It is important to understand that sexual violence targets everyone […] and to talk about sexual violence without recognizing how it targets every specific body doesn’t do justice to dismantling rape culture,” Tessono said. “[The BSN is concerned about] how we make sure that we hold each other accountable and how SSMU plays a role in creating that culture.”

Salvino praises SSMU as the first student union in Canada to tackle sexual and gendered violence through policy, although she warns that the Society will likely face hurdles in enforcing the GSVP. SSMU VP External Connor Spencer notes the culture of mistrust around SSMU and institutional pushback, especially regarding survivor confidentiality and executive dismissal, as major limitations.

“Quebec Labour [standards] are the superseding documents to all SSMU documents and people are typically not even willing to look into bending those rules or interpreting them in a way that is accessible,” Spencer said. “It’s [also] going to take many years of good executives to combat [students’ mistrust of SSMU] and one policy is not going to fix that, but hopefully [the GSVP] is a first of many steps.”

SSMU has been exploring implementation methods such as training club executives on how to report disclosures, tying club funding to workshop attendance, and encouraging faculties to include points from the GSVP in their own constitutions. Spencer recommends that sexual and gendered violence survivors seek help from SSMU, the McGill administration, and survivor-orientated groups like the Sexual Assault Centre of the McGill Students’ Society (SACOMSS).

“My own definition of a pro-survivor approach is choice, and the ability to make informed choices,” Spencer said. “At the student union level, we can facilitate [student accomodations] a lot better because we have the connections with the [McGill administration] office and know what has come before [….] so that we can better advocate for certain folks.”

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