The McGill University Post-Graduate Students’ Society’s (PGSS) Council voted against supporting permanent funding for the Social Equity and Diversity Education (SEDE) Office last Wednesday.
Discussion centered on whether PGSS should send a letter lobbying the administration to ask that SEDE receives permanent funding for two positions previously funded by Student Services. The decision came following debate on the Society’s ability to support individual services, due to McGill’s current financial uncertainty.
SEDE is a McGill office that organizes events, education, and training sessions that promote inclusivity and respect on campus. In 2010, Student Services agreed to provide some funding for two positions within SEDE for a period of three years. This funding ends in May of this year.
“[SEDE] provides information, education, and training to all areas of the university in order to cultivate a respectful, diverse, and supportive campus,” the motion read. “[The end of this funding] may have a negative impact on the number of staff positions at SEDE, and thus threaten SEDE’s valuable service to the McGill community.”
The motion suggests that permanent funding for SEDE could come “through Student Services or otherwise.” However, Executive Director of Student Services Jana Luker told Council that the current level of funding Student Services provides for SEDE is “not sustainable” and could affect the other services provided by her office.
“The priority that the committee of Student Services has already indicated is around mental health,” Luker said. “I guess, hypothetically, we could reduce councillors or reduce other staff, but that would be a really radical change.”
Some PGSS councillors reiterated concern over the possibility that permanent funding for SEDE could cause other services to face cuts.
“Some of the groups that money would have to be pulled from include [offices for] students with disabilities, students with mental health issues, [and] the First People’s House,” Councillor Danielle Meadows said. “The other option would be to potentially raise fees … but again, this goes against our beliefs and motives as PGSS.”
PGSS Equity Commissioner Gretchen King argued that students shouldn’t have to choose one service over another.
“I think this is a bit of a false debate, pitting SEDE against other valuable services,” she said. “If we want services [as] students, we should demand them, we should ask for them, and we should ensure they’re funded through core funding.”
According to Secretary-General Jonathan Mooney, McGill Vice-Principal (Administration and Finance) Michael Di Grappa has asked PGSS to look at areas where the Society can “stand to lose” services, in anticipation of the $19 million cuts to McGill’s budget announced by the provincial government in early December.
Mooney said graduate students should carefully consider what services they prioritize in this time of financial uncertainty.
“When Heather Munroe-Blum came to Council a year ago in January and asked ‘what are the priorities for grad students?’ everyone said ‘funding,’ he said. “This is not to say that SEDE is not important, but I really worry that … [by] supporting one particular unit within the university and saying this is a priority, next month we’re going to get two or three more units coming to us, saying ‘we’re a priority, too.’ ”
King also proposed adding a motion to the agenda, following a request that PGSS endorse the current DPS existence referendum. Several council members expressed concern over the timing of the motion, since it was submitted five days after the deadline to submit motions to Council.
“It has been clear that we would have this referendum since December,” Michael Krause, PGSS internal affairs officer, said. “I think [this motion] is unfair, because councillors did not have the time to prepare for this, and to inform [themselves on] whether they, or their constituents would be for or against this.”
King, however, said she only received a request for an endorsement from the DPS on the day of Council’s meeting.
“The campaign period runs from Jan. 18 to 31, so it would be important for this session of Council to hear and vote on this motion [today],” she said.
After hearing debate on the topic, Council voted against adding the motion to the agenda.