AUS Council discusses controversial SSMU referenda

The Arts Internship Office (AIO) will receive $16,000 following the approval of the Arts Student Employment Fund (ASEF) at the Arts Undergraduate Society (AUS) Legislative Council meeting on March 9. The meeting also saw controversy over the upcoming Students’ Society of McGill University (SSMU) referendum period.

The meeting began with a presentation from the "No" committee for SSMU's Motion Regarding Constitutional Amendments. The amendments, which will be voted on in a referendum next week by the student body,  would require a steering committee to determine whether proposed motions are external or divisive, and decide whether the issue may be  included in the GA agenda accordingly.

Julie Skarha, internal commissioner for AUS Environmental Council spoke  on behalf of the "No" committee about the nature of the committee created by the motion.

"It's important to know that the Steering Committee is not elected,” she said. “It is a very small group of people who are ultimately making a large decision about what is considered divisive […] and there’s no set criteria for this in the motion [….] We do not believe that this is a democratic process at all. SSMU already has a very restrictive process in order to get a motion on the agenda.”

Skarha also explained that the motion does not mention an appeals process, and that the student body had no input on the motion.

"There was no mention of an appeals process for this amendment,” Skarha said. “It would be a permanent change. No consultation was done with the student body for this. That's a big thing.”

The Constitutional Amendment comes after a motion supporting Boycott, Divest and Sanction (BDS) against Israel that was recently approved at the Winter GA, but later failed in online ratification. Arguments against these amendments were met with criticism by the Vice-President (VP) External of the McGill Anthropology Students' Association, Itai Gibli, who claimed that the steering committee would be able to prevent harmfully divisive motions from continually resurfacing, despite past failures.

"[The Constitutional Amendment] is not about stopping the student democratic voice,” said Gibli. “[A motion like BDS] turns the whole student body upside down for two weeks. This is what it's trying to minimise."

Also representing the "No" committee, VP External of First-Year Events, Academic, and Representative Council (FEARC) Erik Partridge, expressed concerns about the requirement of a two-thirds majority vote at the GA to overturn the steering committee’s decision, and subsequently, a two-thirds majority for the motion itself to be passed.

“I think that this motion was brought forward with good intentions,” Partridge said. “It’s important to have [a debate] and for everyone’s voice to be  heard. We just want to make sure that democracy can run its course.”

Following this discussion,  a motion was passed approving the allocation of the ASEF, which is collected every year from professors' undesignated funds, and this year totalled $40,000 according to AUS VP Academic Gabriel Gilling.

“We allocated money based on clarity of the applications and also the perceived impact that they would have on students,” said Gilling.

The largest sum of money, a total of $16,000, was allocated to the AIO for the Arts Undergraduate Research Internship Award (ARIA). ARIA supports students who work with professors in research positions during the summer, and is also partially funded by professors, according to Gilling.

“Every dollar that we allocate to ARIA is matched by the professors, so the $16,000 that we’ve allocated [is] in fact representative of $32,000 so that’s a tremendous service that we’re giving to students,” said Gilling. “Effectively we can say that the $16,000 is actually hiring 16 students.”

A motion regarding a 10.4 per cent increase in the fee for McGill's Panama Field Study Semester (PFSS) Program was also approved. According to AUS President Jacob Greenspon, this was because of the weak Canadian dollar. AUS VP Academic Gabriel Gilling asked whether this fee would be adjusted to its previous level if the Canadian dollar's value were to rise in the future, to which Greenspon responded.

“We only approve the specific changes so I guess they can keep this up as high for future years,” Greenspon said. “But if they reduce the fee, they don’t have to ask for our approval.”

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