Governance 101: An introduction to McGill’s governing bodies

STUDENTS’ SOCIETY OF MCGILL UNIVERSITY (SSMU)

What it does:

SSMU is responsible for supervising undergraduate clubs and extracurricular activities, managing and ensuring the sustainability of long-term operations such as Gerts’, advocating for student interests in the McGill Senate, and assisting in planning social events such as Frosh. SSMU is led by seven student executives who are elected at the end of every academic year. Legislative Council, which is composed of SSMU executives who sit with 30 other councillors who represent faculties and extracurricular clubs, determines policy directions. Any councillor can propose a motion, which Council then votes on and may become legislation. Additionally, several of the 30 councillors deliberate McGill policies at Senate meetings. Seven students, predominantly from the Faculty of Law, make up the Judicial Board, which ensures that SSMU adheres to its constitution. Undergraduate students can directly influence SSMU by attending its General Assemblies and voting in online referenda, both of which are held once every semester. 

Recent Events:

SSMU is currently entangled in an ongoing battle for a Fall Reading Week, which Deputy Provost (Student Life and Learning) Fabrice Labeau said might be possible as soon as Fall 2020. At the 2018 Fall Referendum, members of SSMU approved funding for the Gendered and Sexual Violence Policy (GSVP), which provides resources for sexual violence response training for SSMU executives and half the members of all SSMU clubs. SSMU remains without a home, although the University Centre is set to re-open in December 2019 after construction for asbestos removal, a new HVAC system, and additional restrooms is completed. 

POSTGRADUATE STUDENTS’ SOCIETY (PGSS)

What it does: 

PGSS representatives are elected by graduate students and postdoctorate fellows, and meet once a month to discuss and vote on new policies. To fulfill its mandate, which includes improving the quality of life for postgraduates by providing accessible social events, the PGSS executives plan events such as workshops and cocktail parties, many of which take place in their headquarters at Thomson House. Additionally, the society liaises with other governing bodies at McGill and beyond.

Recent Events:

To amplify PGSS’s voice on the provincial stage, former External Affairs Officer Hocine Slimani advocated for joining the Quebec Student Union (QSU), which advocates for student interests at the provincial level. PGSS members debated the merits of joining the QSU at an October 2018 meeting, and amended a motion to pose a referendum question on the subject to allow an unaffiliated external body to study the student federation.

BOARD OF GOVERNORS (BoG)

What it does:

The McGill BoG acts as the final authority over all of the university’s academic and financial affairs. Two student representatives sit on the 25-person board, with the rest of the seats belonging to other stakeholders. Composed of nine standing committees, including the Finance Committee and the Committee to Advise on Matters of Social Responsibility(CAMSR), the BoG is responsible for the maintenance of daily activities at McGill. They are scheduled to hold five regular meetings over the upcoming academic year. Meetings include a closed portion followed by a public session open to all members of the university. 

Recent Events: 

In April 2019, Board Members Darin Barney and Derek Nystrom resigned over their anticipation that the BoG will decide against divesting from fossil fuels. Despite the McGill Senate’s voting overwhelmingly in favour of divestment, the BoG has yet to make a final decision, but will release a report in Dec. 2019. The Board also shut down a proposal to make BoG committee meetings more accessible to members who are not a part of specific committees at an April meeting, but will consider the question of student representation on subcommittees in the coming months. 

MCGILL SENATE

What it does:

The Senate is mandated to govern academic policies such as the development of curricula and requirements for degrees and diplomas. It also takes on a broader role at McGill by managing the university’s libraries and administering Student Services. The Senate is comprised of nine standing committees, which include the Senate Steering Committee and the Committee on Libraries. The Senate meets on a monthly basis, during which standing committees deliver reports and senators vote on policies and nominations.

Recent Events:

After McGill missed the Jan. 1 provincial deadline for an updated sexual violence policy, the Senate approved a revised Policy Against Sexual Violence at its March meeting. While the revised policy includes improvements such as a centralized reporting procedure and new online sexual violence awareness and prevention training, the policy does not place an outright ban on professor-student relationships, a decision that remains a source of controversy.

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