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(Hannah Taylor / The McGill Tribune)

SSMU Board of Directors composition risks violating constitution

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The Board of Directors met on Sept. 24 and received the SSMU legal team's opinion on the matter. Read the Tribune's coverage of the session here. The below article has been updated to incorporate the findings expressed on Sunday night.

 

The Students’ Society of McGill University (SSMU)’s Board of Directors (BoD), the organization’s highest governing body, risks falling out of accordance with constitutional requirements regarding the composition of its membership. The situation threatens to undermine the legitimacy of its ratification of a controversial SSMU Judicial Board ruling regarding the legality of the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement at its meeting on Sept. 17, and future measures passed by the Board.

According to the SSMU constitution, the BoD is responsible for “[supervising] the management and [administering] the business and affairs of the Society.” The board’s duties include approving financial and operational decisions, dealing with human resources or legal matters concerning SSMU, and having final say on resolutions passed by the SSMU Legislative Council—SSMU’s representative and policy-making body—or decisions by the Judicial Board.

The constitution stipulates that the BoD must include 12 voting members, of which four must be SSMU executives; the President, Vice-President (VP) Finance, VP Sustainability and Operations, and one other executive appointed by Legislative Council. Four of the eight non-executive directors must be councillors nominated by Legislative Council, and the remaining four directors must be at-large student members who apply to be on the board and are filtered and nominated by the BoD Nominating Committee. Those eight nominated non-executive directors are then approved by student referendum or at the SSMU General Assembly (GA). Their terms run from November to November, while SSMU executives’ terms coincide with their elected terms, from June to June.

Due to five directors' resignations from the BoD last term—including former President Ben Ger and VP External David Aird following accusations of gendered and sexual violence, respectively—vacancies were filled with at-large student members to prevent the board from falling below the constitutionally-required quorum of seven directors. Currently, the BoD is composed of SSMU President and Chair Muna Tojiboeva, VP Finance Arisha Khan, VP Internal Maya Koparkar, and nine members-at-large, many of whom had been appointed as council representatives last academic year. VP Operations and Sustainability Anuradha Mallik was ineligible to serve on the board as she was not a Canadian citizen and so Koparkar joined the board in her place, with Mallik having since resigned from her position due to personal reasons. The fourth executive seat on the board remains unfilled, and would require the removal of one of the members-at-large to maintain a total of 12 voting members. A resolution from Legislative Council would be required to accomplish this, but at the Sept. 14 Council meeting, no fourth executive was nominated.

At its second meeting of the Fall term on Sept. 17, the BoD ratified a May 2016 Judicial Board ruling finding the “Motion to Support the Boycott, Divest, and Sanctions Movement” proposed at the Winter 2016 GA in violation of the SSMU constitution, among other business. The motion, which initially passed at the GA but failed in the following online ratification period, would have mandated SSMU to support campaigns associated with the BDS movement, and to lobby McGill University to withdraw its investments from a number of companies. The Judicial Board ruled that the BDS Motion, and any other motion “that specifically targets one nation and compels SSMU to actively campaign against that country,” is unconstitutional because it would undermine SSMU’s commitment to avoid discrimination based on “irrelevant personal characteristics that include but are not limited to race, national, and ethnic origin.”

The board voted 11 in favour of upholding the ruling, with one abstention from Khan. But given the unfilled executive seat and extra at-large member, the vote ratifying the Judicial Board’s decision that the motion regarding BDS is unconstitutional falls in a constitutional grey area. Given the BoD's full knowledge of the situation, it is required to make all possible efforts to realign its composition with constitutional requirements or it will be in violation. SSMU General Manager Ryan Hughes, a full-time employee of SSMU and non-voting member of the BoD, was not present at the meeting. The BoD next meets Sept. 24 at 7 p.m..

 

A previous version of this article mistated the number of BoD resignations last year as four. In fact, there were five resignations. Additionally the Sept. 17 BoD meeting was the second of the Fall term, not the first. The Tribune regrets these errors.

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