VP Internal resignation
In October 2015, the acting vice-president (VP) Internal of the Students’ Society of McGill University (SSMU) Lola Baraldi resigned, citing personal reasons. Following two elections for Baraldi’s replacement, Omar El-Sharaway took office as the new VP Internal on Jan. 1. In the wake of these events, SSMU executives held a forum to discuss the potential restructuring of executive positions and the electoral process. The possibility of adding a seventh executive position, called VP Operations, was the main focus of the forum. In order for the new position to be created, the idea must be presented to the student body in a referendum at the beginning of this semester.
“Over the next two months or so, we would do more [consultation…] and then run a referendum to amend the constitution in January if that’s what students […] wanted,” Kimber Bialik, VP Clubs and Services said.
Last semester also saw a General Assembly (GA) that failed to meet quorum, meaning no motions were brought to a vote. The historically low attendance at GAs prompted a discussion regarding abolishing the GA altogether.
“People think that this forum is defunct; they don’t really think it serves its purpose and that the only time people actually show up is for specific issues,” said Kareem Ibrahim, SSMU president. “In terms of my thoughts, I think it’s on the table to have one annual GA per year.”
Climate change policy
On Oct. 15, SSMU Council passed the climate change policy, which contains guidelines for relationships between SSMU and companies that contribute to man-made climate change.
“SSMU will avoid purchasing products from companies that violate environmental laws or actively fund the spread of false science,” reads the new policy. “SSMU will continue to avoid all investments in the fossil fuel industry and other sustainability screens outlined in the five-year ethical investment plan.”
The new policy was subject to heated debate during the Council meeting, with representatives from the Faculty of Engineering raising concerns over the lack of support for the policy within their constituents, many of whom are likely to pursue careers within industries that the new policy pledges not to support. Despite this, the new policy was passed with amendments.
Support of Fall reading week
On Nov. 5, SSMU Council approved a motion in support of a Fall reading week. The motion allowed SSMU to use its resources to help ensure that a Fall reading week is voted on by the Senate in a timely fashion, which will help facilitate the proposed implementation of the plan by the 2017-2018 school year.
“Be it resolved, that the Students’ Society of McGill University (SSMU) endorses the proposal for a Fall Reading Break,” the motion reads. “Be it further resolved, that the SSMU mandate the VP University Affairs and Senate Caucus to pursue the approval of this proposal by Senate before the end of the academic year.”
At its General Meeting on Oct. 24, the Post-Graduate Student’s Society (PGSS) passed a motion of divestment that calls upon the university to remove its investments from fossil fuel industries. The vote was preceded by a presentation by Divest McGill and Victor Frankel, PGSS environmental commissioner.
“[The motion starts] from the things that are the least contentious,” Frankel said. “Like [recognizing] that climate change is real, to things that are fairly reasonable like freezing or having a moratorium on any new investments in fossil fuels […] to the more contentious issues […] which says that PGSS strongly endorses divestment from fossil fuel companies and also supports efforts of its senators and members at the board of governors to strongly support divestment.”
Traditional territory acknowledgement
On Sept. 16, PGSS Council approved a motion to include a Traditional Territory Acknowledgement Statement at the beginning of PGSS events and on the society’s website to recognize indigenous land claims to the McGill campus.
“McGill University is located on land which has long served as a site of meeting and exchange amongst Indigenous peoples, including the Haudenosaunee and Anishinabeg nations,” the statement reads. “McGill University honours and respects the diverse Indigenous peoples connected to this territory on which we gather today.”
Motion in support of students working for private corporations
In November, a private corporation sued a masters student for the destruction of his published work, including his master’s thesis, due to his use of confidential data. The student had completed research with the corporation, which was affiliated with the professor overseeing his research. The case caused the PGSS to pass a motion during its council meeting on Nov. 26 to protect students working with private corporations.
“Be it resolved that Council approves the drafting of a proposed policy regarding the involvement of private corporations in which a supervisor has a financial interest, with the goal of having the policy become an official McGill policy approved by the McGill Senate,” reads the motion. “The policy would be based on the following: the obligation of professors to disclose affiliation with private companies to the university and their students, the requirement of a departmental pre-approval process before students become involved with a company, with clear criteria to protect student intellectual property and rights, [and] the implementation of a university process to protect student rights, notably involving periodic audits of partnerships between professors, companies, and students.”
Internal Affairs Officer resignation
On Nov. 11, Sahil Kumar, the sitting Internal Affairs Officer (AIO) of PGSS announced his resignation. He cited academic obligations as the reason behind his resignation.
“My trajectory through graduate studies has taken a new turn, and now requires a greater time commitment,” Kumar said. “I did not want to see the portfolio suffer and have decided that this would be the best option to move forward. It has been an absolute pleasure to work with [all] of the PGSS executives and commissioners over these last seven months.”
Mina Anadolu was elected as Kumar’s replacement, and took office shortly after his term officially ended on Dec. 3.
MUS presidential byelection
The Management Undergraduate Society (MUS) announced the resignation of its president, Élie Lubendo, this past October. A letter released by MUS cited personal reasons from Lubendo’s resignation.
“Due to personal reasons, Élie, elected as the President and Chairman for a one-year term in February of 2015, tendered his resignation from this role on October 20th, 2015.”
The letter described the contributions Lubendo had made to the MUS throughout his time as president.
“During Élie’s tenure, he laid the groundwork for substantial positive change and significantly contributed to the Society as a whole,” the MUS letter read. “Élie will be greatly missed as a member of the team and the MUS greatly thanks him for his service to the Society.”
A nomination period for new presidential candidates opened on Oct. 28, with all the responsibilities of the former president being taken on in the interim by VP Academic Affairs, Aarushi Kumar.
“Fortunately, the Academic portfolio has a considerable amount of overlap with the presidential role already,” said Aarushi. “Our constitution states that the VP Academic will take over should the president ever resign, and thus the role was designed to be able to make the transition with very minimal difficulty.”
At the end of the nomination period, three candidates were named: Michael Fishman, Aarushi Kumar and Alan Liu. Following a six-day voting period, Fishman, a U2 Honours Investment Management student, won the election. Fishman has held the position since Nov. 16 and will end his term on April 30, 2016.
SUS Burnside renovation
Over the past semester, the Science Undergraduate Society (SUS) has continued to develop its plans for the renovation of the Burnside Basement. SUS hopes to transform the current study space into a more student-friendly area. The renovations were originally set to take place during the summer months, however they have yet to be completed due to the prioritization of other consruction projects.
In March, 2015 the SUS launched a crowdfunding campaign on McGill’s Seeds of Change fundraising platform, with the goal of raising $6,000. The campaign closed on June 18, after having raised $2,282.
According to the project’s Seeds of Change page, the renovation is intended to transform the dimly-lit basement into a welcoming, all-access space for students.
“Investing in efficient lighting, group study areas, and the installation of whiteboards to promote collaboration and progress group work will offer small but impactful changes to this student space,” the website reads.
The plan additionally cites the mental health benefits that the new space will offer.
“For students, having a comfortable place to go and unwind, study, or simply interact with peers can have a huge impact on the quality of daily life and mental health,” the page reads. “The study space in Burnside Basement is currently limited to a handful of built-in desks and dated sofas purchased back in 2001.”
During the Oct. 28 General Council meeting, VP Finance Sibat Anam spoke to President Jeremy Goh’s efforts to move the project forward.
“[Goh is] currently working on the Burnside [Hall] Renovation Committee, [but] they’re just working through a lot of hoops and it’s backed up [behind other construction projects on campus],” Anam said. “He met with McGill Spaces and Campus Planning to […] draft a proposal as soon as possible.”
At the Nov. 25 SUS Council meeting, Anam announced that the final designs for the renovation were nearing completion.
“[The president] is scheduling a meeting with the dean of Science to talk about the final designs,” Anam said. “Of the three initial designs, two of them are ready to go and they’ll probably make the deadline for the final design plans.”
AUS makes progress on SNAX and election reform
On Nov. 27, the Arts Undergraduate Society (AUS) referendum question regarding constitutional amendments to modify the AUS vice-president (VP) Finance screening process passed with 91.3 per cent of the vote. The changes to the process, which were first discussed at the AUS General Assembly (GA) in February 2013, now require a selection committee to screen and approve candidates before they can run for the position of VP Finance.
“Eligibility to stand for election to the position of AUS Vice-President Finance shall be on the basis of candidates being sufficiently qualified for the duties and responsibilities required of the AUS Vice-President Finance, as determined by a two-thirds majority vote of a committee struck for these purposes,” the question read.
According to AUS President Jacob Greenspon, the changes came in response to issues AUS had in the past from delayed tax filing and audits.
“AUS did not file taxes from 2008 to 2012, resulting in the government freezing $120,000 from the AUS bank account,” said Greenspon. “AUS also [failed] to send McGill its audited financial statements in that time period [….] As a result, McGill withheld our student fees.”
In January 2015, SNAX was mandated to discontinue the sale of sandwiches due to issues of food safety, as outlined in their Memorandum of Agreement (MoA) with McGill. This decision received noticeable backlash from students, resulting in a sit-in at SNAX in March to raise awareness of the issue.
SNAX’s MoA with McGill, which forbids the sale of sandwiches, came to an end in 2015, opening up the floor to negotiate changes for a new MoA. According to Greenspon, McGill agreed in November to allow SNAX to resume sandwich sales in the new MoA.
“McGill has recognized the arguments behind most of our positions, and fortunately, has moved to cooperate on many issues, notably SNAX selling sandwiches,” Greenspon said. “We are not yet at an agreement, but I believe we are closer than we have been in the past to signing the MoA and again selling sandwiches at SNAX.”