The McGill Tribune Editorial Board reviewed the 2016-2017 Students’ Society of McGill University (SSMU) executives on their performance. Although these summaries intend to review the executives' entire term, not all information received regarding each executive was published due to space constraints in the paper.
In its editorial discussion, the Tribune evaluated each executive based on feedback from student councillors and input from the executive teams. In previous years, the Tribune has given grades to the executives based on feedback from councillors and the discussion of the Editorial Board. Given the extraordinary circumstances facing the SSMU executive team this semester, in which period two of the executives resigned, the Tribune decided that it would be inappropriate to do so this year.
Vice-President Student Life and Acting President: Elaine Patterson
Following the resignation of former president Ben Ger, Vice-President (VP) Student Life Elaine Patterson assumed the role of Acting President. Despite the added workload and this semester's controversies, Patterson has risen to the occasion and is overseeing the groundwork for the SSMU Gendered and Sexualized Violence Policy (GSVP).
Prior to assuming the presidential portfolio, Patterson organized successful Activities Nights in both the Fall and Winter semester despite limitations due to construction on McTavish and the elimination of the student staff Activities Night Coordinator position. With a club moratorium in place for the entirety of her term, Patterson worked to make existing clubs more financially and spatially stable. Despite this effort, transparency about the mandatory transition from club status to independent student group (ISG) status that was applied to certain clubs prior to Patterson’s term was lacking.
Additionally, Patterson did not appear to place enough emphasis on the mental health aspect of her portfolio, especially considering that the McGill Counselling and Mental Health Services (MCMHS) underwent significant changes this year. Although she organized Mental Health Awareness Week and provided institutional support for services, such as the Peer Support Centre, more advocacy could have been done on the students’ behalf, as the changes to MCMHS continue to present challenges for students.
Despite these shortcomings, Patterson has remained approachable and dedicated to building relationships with SSMU members and groups within SSMU. Her unfailing energy and candor has been an asset to the SSMU executive team. By maintaining positive relationships with existing SSMU clubs and services, Patterson has paved the way for more efficient club management in the upcoming year. Despite increased responsibilities, Patterson continued to demonstrate patience and a willingness to hear student concerns.
Vice-President Internal: Daniel Lawrie
VP Internal Daniel Lawrie has organized a variety of successful events this year. Some of the highlights of his term include Faculty Olympics, which drew over 800 participants over the course of five days and was very well received. Lawrie also coordinated 4Floors, which was subject to underwhelming turnouts in recent years. Lawrie grew its attendance to around 1,000 attendees and the function mostly received positive feedback.
Moreover, Lawrie promoted Life After Your Degree (Life AYD) events, such as dining etiquette workshops, CV workshops, and LinkedIn Headshot sessions to improve SSMU’s involvement with practical concerns of its membership.
In hopes of better protecting students, Lawrie worked alongside the Office of the Dean of Students to sign a Memorandum of Understanding with the administration to have the McGill Code of Conduct apply to events within the VP Internal’s portfolio, such as 4Floors and Frosh. Still, Lawrie insufficiently advocated for the development of non-drinking focused activities while overseeing Frosh plans.
At the end of the 2015-2016 year, the responsibility of managing the First-Year Council (FYC) was moved to the Internal portfolio. While he gained experience in event planning throughout his term, Lawrie struggled to play an advisory role for the FYC. His failure to adequately guide the Council and to fully make use of its budget resulted in the FYC being a largely ineffective body for representing and engaging first-years.
Lawrie attributes the high open rate of the SSMU listerv this year to his inclusion of animated GIFs and catchy titles in emails. However, this method of increasing engagement by reducing the content of listservs has been criticized for being exclusionary.
Lawrie oversaw the SSMU Website Redesign project. The new site, which aims to provide easier access to information regarding student societies, will be launched in the upcoming year.
Vice-President Finance: Niall Carolan
Much of the VP Finance portfolio occurs largely behind the scenes of SSMU activity and VP Finance Niall Carolan has worked hard to tighten the SSMU budget. Having entered the position facing a $90,000 deficit, Carolan has helped bring SSMU to a surplus that will reach near $400,000 by the end of the 2016-2017 fiscal year. A significant portion of this surplus will be invested in SSMU human resources and departments that will better serve the student body. Additionally, following the resignation of the VP External and President, Carolan assumed several responsibilities from each portfolio, including a position on the McGill Board of Governors (BoG) and negotiations for the 2017-2021 Memorandum of Agreement (MoA) with the university.
A large part of Carolan’s success in bringing SSMU into a financial surplus entailed holding regular meetings with SSMU department managers and operations directors, using weekly sales reports and monthly rollup reports, and seeking external corporate sponsorship for SSMU. Yet, the latter action was controversial, sparking debate among the student body after advertisements were placed around the SSMU Building and used during Activities Night, which critics argued were distracting from the student clubs that were present.
Carolan worked to streamline the funding process for clubs, services, and groups by allowing clubs to apply for multiple funding sources within the same application and purchasing new funding software. Further, Carolan achieved better financial transparency for SSMU by separating staff salaries, executive salaries, and operational staff salaries. He also budgeted a Financial Assistant to the VP Finance for the 2018 operating year and established a Social Responsibility Investment Fund for the upcoming year.
Though Carolan’s time on the SSMU Executive Committee was successful, he was often difficult to reach and unavailable to students and the student media. However, his changes to the budget led to what Carolan reports to be the largest operational surplus on record.
Vice-President Operations: Sacha Magder
VP Operations Sacha Magder began the year with the Crash Pad program, a successful initiative that provides a safe place in the SSMU Ballroom for commuter students to stay overnight. Magder’s other main accomplishment was improving SSMU MiniCourses. Although Fall 2016 numbers were similar to the numbers in the previous year, in Winter 2017, MiniCourses revenue increased from $6,214 to $15,635. Magder attributes this success to more active marketing and emphasis on professional skills courses, such as a popular new graphic design class.
Both Gerts and Sadie’s have also made financial improvements. Parts of large events, such as Carnival, Science Games, and Engineering Games, were held at Gerts as opposed to off-campus establishments. Further, Sadie’s revenue doubled and this year’s deficit is predicted to be 30 to 50 per cent smaller than last year’s. Yet, Magder’s rebranding efforts for Sadie’s were unimpressive and it is unclear how much of the increase in business was simply the McTavish construction rerouting students through the SSMU Building.
Sustainability objectives were moved to the VP Operations portfolio at the end of the 2015-2016 academic year. With regards to this mandate, Magder brought sustainability representatives from different faculties together in a Cross Campus Sustainability Council. Plans are underway for sustainability checklists, sustainability education, and sustainable Frosh suppliers.
It has taken time for Magder to communicate and implement his ideas, such as the plan to put up Aboriginal artwork in SSMU and the SSMU Courtyard Garden Project. How much of this is the result his portfolio being new and how much can be attributed to recent disruptions within SSMU have yet to be determined, but what is clear is the creativity and energy that Magder puts into his work.
Vice-President University Affairs: Erin Sobat
VP University Affairs (UA) Erin Sobat approached the position with a great deal of energy and enthusiasm this year. He delivered on multiple campaign promises, including a successful Know Your Rights campaign, and increased the visibility of the UA portfolio via social media with a new website. Sobat also played an important role in developing and passing the university’s Policy on Sexual Violence in the Fall, building on the wish of his predecessors and working to bring the work of other student groups to bear in negotiations with the administration. In the second semester of his term, however, Sobat was often complicit in the poor handling of SSMU controversies.
Sobat also developed a monthly UA listserv, which provided updates on developments in student advocacy resources, projects, and research. Sobat put a SSMU policy on unpaid internships into motion, pursued a centralized model for academic accommodations administered by faculties instead of individual professors, and made progress on revising tenure guidelines to include a mental health training requirement.
In the equity portion of the UA portfolio, Sobat helped produce guidelines for a formal policy on equitable hiring at McGill, with first training session held at the end of March. Progress on this issue was delayed after SSMU President Ben Ger’s resignation in March, but significant groundwork has been laid for implementing a policy in the future. Work on equitable governance reform was also pushed back with Ger’s resignation. Sobat worked on developing a baseline equity training workshop to accompany the Academic Integrity Tutorial on Minerva, a project that will continue into next year.
Aside from Sobat’s many successes on the student advocacy and equity portions of his portfolio, some of his actions this year betrayed the lack of adequate internal procedures within SSMU for dealing with disclosures regarding executives and SSMU staff. Sobat faced criticism for his support of former Arts Representative Igor Sadikov after his controversial tweet on Feb. 6. Sobat also failed to reveal former VP External David Aird’s weekly “check-ins” in the Fall semester. Sobat acknowledged that he knew about allegations of gendered violence against Ger ahead of time, but did not share them with the other SSMU executives–they were only made public after Ger’s resignation.