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MACES' red door symbolizes visibility on campus. (Natalie Vineberg / McGill Tribune)

The red door flags MACES’ progress, but also underlying issues

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The executive board of McGill’s Association of Continuing Education Studies (MACES) recently saw the resignation of two board members, including their vice-president (VP) finance Ghassan Berro and senator Nely Gaulea. These resignations have left a total of three vacant seats on their board. In 2012, an article published by the McGill Daily entitled “The Phantom Student Government” raised concerns over transparency and accountability within the MACES. Despite improvements in recent years, according to MACES President Sean Murphy,  internal dissonance continues to exist among members. 

Transparency 

Mike, an alumnus of the School of Continuing Studies (SCS) and current member of the MACES bylaws review committee, raised concerns over the effectiveness of current leadership. 

“There’s a lack of leadership, a lack of transparency,” Mike said.  “Each board member gets an annual stipend of $5,500, every member of the board gets paid for each year [….]  Some—I won’t say all, because some are doing a great job—are not there for the right reasons.” 

A recently-formed committee is reworking the organization’s bylaws to better reflect what is actually happening in the SCS, and to draft standard operating procedures to make sure that all the duties of the VPs and employees at MACES are done in a professional manner.  

“You can be a board member, sit on the board, do nothing, and get compensated,” an individual who requested to remain anonymous said.  “That is why we are reviewing the bylaws.”

Bylaw reform

According to Mike, MACES also lacks connectivity with the 10,000 students that attend the SCS yearly. The average student at the SCS attends for one to two years, often with a full-time job, seeking to further develop or complement their professional skills. 

“You can’t compare MACES to, for example, [the Students’ Society of McGill University (SSMU)], or [the Post Graduate Students’ Society (PGSS)],” Mike said. “SSMU is pretty much students who are at McGill for at least three years [….] MACES is very particular [….] Most of these students are at school on a part-time basis, so they’re not really involved in the school or with student life.” 

In light of this, turnout at previous elections has been weak, both in candidate nominations and student voting, explained Kia Memarzadeh, MACES Elections ehief returning officer (CRO).  

“In the graduate programs or undergraduate programs, many students are very involved with their emails and very in touch,” Memarzadeh said. “But many people in the School of Continuing Studies, actually-they don’t even check their McGill email. And this is our problem.”

Internal meeting conduct

Although the board meets every three weeks, the internal source raised concerns over how meetings have been conducted. 

“The last few months […] was when we started to face problems,” the anonymous source  said. “From following the bylaws, to making solo decisions, [to] not respecting Roberts’ Rules and how meetings are run; meetings are not recorded, for example.”

According to the source, transparency on the actions of the MACES board falls on them to improve. 

“I’ve been talking about having minutes posted online as a way to inform the membership of what’s happening inside the organization,” the anonymous source said.  “What do [we] do, what decisions we come up with whenever we meet.”

Financial challenges

Nevertheless, the current board has worked on increasing their profile. The front door of the MACES Building on Rue Peel was painted red by the current MACES president, Sean Murphy, to symbolize improvements to visibility on campus. 

“When I became president, one of my primary things was making MACES more visible,” Murphy said. “A lot of people don’t know what MACES is.”  

Among the board’s initiatives are making workshops and events available to students, ensuring their members are present at Senate and Board of Governors meetings, and working closely with the career advising unit at the SCS. 

“We’ve been trying to work hard to make changes to meet the level of our students expectations,” Zaher Agha, MACES VP internal emphasized.  “We cannot deny that there is always room for improvement [… but] we are genuinely working hard to best represent those who have trusted us and elected us as representatives.” 

The SCS student fee paid into MACES is $13 per registered course, and is directed at running their building on Rue Peel—which includes study, computer, and conference rooms—maintaining the state of the art language lab at the SCS, and providing bursaries. 

To use the services McGill offers full-time students, MACES is charged more by McGill than other student unions on campus.  

“Apart from taking care of this space and the administration of the building, which is actually quite lean, we have a few added costs because we are an affiliated organization, so we’re charged a little extra by McGill,” Murphy. said. “Our budget is actually quite stable. We’re trying to save money wherever we can. But I think we give back quite a bit, so it’s money well spent, there are no frivolous expenses.” 

Under the previous VP Finance, MACES was able to rationalize many of its expenses. A full-time accountant monitors the billing, and an outside auditor is contracted to complete financial audits; however, a major point of contention leading to the resignation of board members was the tardy completion of the 2014-2015 yearly audit. 

“I have been warning [the board] since September that we should have our audit done, and this is when people got frustrated,” the anonymous source stated. “We have two people who left the board and the president […] treated it like any other situation.”

Upcoming challenges

In spite of the improvements the student union has undergone on the surface, it still seems that MACES is falling short on  internal accountability. During his time at the SCS, Mike sat on a council created in 2013 for the purpose of overseeing the actions of the board, although this council only met twice that year.  He expressed that this was not enough time to do a complete job. 

“Our job was to be […] a watchdog on what was happening inside the board,” Mike said. “They were supposed to report to us at least once every semester, and we’re supposed to comment and give feedback on what they did, and what they should have done [….] It was like a formality.” 

Upcoming elections for the MACES board of 2016-2018 will be held from Feb. 22 to Feb. 28, and the deadline for nominations ends Feb. 7. 

”For those who think they can work for the MACES, [they should] nominate themselves and go for that,” Memarzadeh said. “It will be, I think, a very good opportunity [….] And it’s a very good time for change.” 

With the two recent resignations, current board members hope to see a degree of institutional memory and continuity going into the future. 

“I’m concerned not about those three positions,” the anonymous source said. “I’m concerned more about the leadership and the future of this organization.  We need someone who is a visionary, who is committed, who is a good negotiator, who listens to others and does not make solo decisions.”

Additional reporting by Aislinn Kalob.

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