This week, the McGill Tribune conducted midterm reviews of the Students' Society of McGill University (SSMU) executives.
Daniel Lawrie: VP Internal
Lawrie’s led SSMU’s shift to playing a more administrative rather than programming role in Froshes. Events were successfully coordinated and executed with various vice-presidents of each faculty’s undergraduate society. A new initiative at Frosh this year was the consent video, which aimed to educate students and make Frosh experiences safer. Lawrie also launched B-Week in coordination with VP Finance Niall Carolan, which aimed to increase customers at Gerts through cheap drink deals. This succeeded in quadrupling Gerts’ sales during the week and attracting students back to the bar, which is an important source of revenue for SSMU.
This year 4Floors produced a slight profit despite having a higher budget than last year. This is a commendable improvement over 4Floors’ low sales and deficit in the 2015-2016 school year. Lawrie has since formed multiple sub-committees of the Students’ Society Programming Network (SSPN) in order to maximize the effectiveness of the team by delegating responsibility for planning upcoming events that don’t require participation from the whole network. Next semester, the SSPN will plan events such as Faculty Olympics and Week 101 welcome-back gathering, and aims to further improve Gerts’ turnout.
As part of rebranding Red and White Week, Life After Your Degree (LifeAYD) has been expanded and aims to help students prepare for careers and learn professional skills. The programming has been scheduled over the entire school year rather than being confined to a month of November. LifeAYD will take full effect next semester. The success of this change and SSMU’s ability to further collaborate with related groups and organizations in order to improve student preparation for life after McGill remains to be seen.
Although Discover McGill and Frosh made use of the McGill app, Lawrie has not yet integrated his listserv information in it. However, he plans on addressing this next semester. The SSMU website redesign has also been put on hold due to budgetary constraints.
Finally, Lawrie has reorganized the First Year Council to be more efficient in its budget, but the council only met twice during Fall 2016.
Ben Ger: President
With SSMU being short on both staff and resources, Ger was able to work effectively with the other executives to keep costs under control across all portfolios. Despite following a deficit year, the Students’ Society of McGill University (SSMU) reported a surplus this semester for the first time in many years. Ger’s successful initiatives so far include the online ratification of the Free Menstrual Hygiene Products Fee after the Fall 2016 General Assembly (GA). The $0.90 fee will start in Winter 2017 and will go to the creation of the Health & Hygiene Products Fund to provide free menstrual hygiene products to students in restrooms across campus.
Ger has pursued research and discussion on reforming various governing bodies at McGill, from the SSMU Legislative Council to the McGill University Board of Governors (BoG). His goals include increasing diversity and equity internally at SSMU Council by including seats for indigenous and other minority student populations, and increasing transparency and student consultation by the BoG.
For Ger, this includes updating the SSMU Equitable Hiring Policy, creating an Ethical Expenditures Policy with Vice-President (VP) Finance Niall Carolan, and some political literacy-related initiatives.
Looking forward to the Winter semester, Ger hopes to improve on the low turnout at the Fall 2016 GA, which failed to meet quorum with fewer than 40 students in attendance. Having campaigned on increased student engagement with SSMU, Ger will continue to lobby the administration to provide academic accommodations during the assemblies to make it more accessible to students.
Sacha Magder: VP Operations
Sacha Madger has overseen a much-needed increase in revenue from Gerts and the Student-Run Cafe (SRC). Revenue from the entire SSMU building is up 40 per cent compared to last year, helping to cope with the current budget deficit. Considering that the SRC is limited to advertising within the SSMU building by contract with McGill, the SRC’s doubled revenue is an accomplishment. However, given that construction on campus has rerouted many pedestrians through the SSMU building, it is unclear how much of this increase can be credited solely to Madger’s management, and not just to the increase in foot traffic through the building. Additionally, a large portion of Madger’s campaign platform pertained to rebranding the SRC, which was presented as a project intended for completion in the Fall. Still, the new name has yet to be revealed and is now scheduled for launch in January.
Madger has worked closely with the administration on adapting the SSMU building to the ongoing construction, most notably by working with security and the staff of the Brown Student Services Building to keep the connecting doors between SSMU and Brown open until 10:30 p.m. This provides an entry to an accessible route up McTavish throughout the hours of operation of the SSMU building.
One of the main points in Madger’s campaign was establishing a Crash Pad for commuter students to stay overnight on campus. Madger was successful in coordinating the Crash Pad during Frosh, a project that was intended to be a trial run before setting up a more permanent program
However, the Crash Pad has since taken a backseat to other projects under his portfolio and received little attention. Additionally, enrolment in SSMU Minicourses has been very low this semester. Madger has plans to remedy this situation in Winter 2017, but the program has been largely neglected to date.
Elaine Patterson: VP Student Life
The restructuring of executive portfolios in the 2015-2016 year brought Mental Health under the Student Life portfolio, a change that is still being smoothed out practically. Mental Health Awareness Week has been moved from the Fall semester to Winter 2017 in order to ensure that adequate resources are devoted to its preparation.
Increasing Activities Night’s duration from two days to three while reducing its hours from four to three enabled more participation and reduced the burden on clubs participating. While there were challenges in building access owing to the McTavish construction, Patterson addressed these issues in a timely fashion in order to ensure that students were able to participate in the event.
Patterson worked to develop the free Menstrual Hygiene Products Policy, which passed in the Fall 2016 Referendum. This policy will have a substantial long-term impact, which means that the coming months are essential in laying the groundwork and setting precedent for its execution.
Patterson is constrained by the ongoing Club Moratorium, which prevents new clubs from forming. The Moratorium came into effect at the end of last year as a result of SSMU’s budget issues. In the 2015-2016 year, clubs were moved out of their offices, which became bookable rooms. Despite this, there are still issues of clubs being able to find space in the building, even if they are a SSMU Club. However, some services, such as the Peer Support Centre, have now been given permanent spaces.Patterson is also behind on progress of the Services Review Committee.
Erin Sobat: VP University Affairs
In his role as VP University Affairs (UA), Erin Sobat has made an effort to improve SSMU’s relationship with the McGill administration and student groups on campus. By holding an equity roundtable with student organizations, Sobat hopes to hear student concerns and represent their interests more fully at the university level. In an additional effort to improve communication, Sobat has focused on using the UA website and Facebook page to share information with students. Although events at the beginning of the semester, such as the Academic Summit, allowed Sobat to interact with SSMU members face-to-face, this direct contact has dwindled throughout the semester. Sobat hopes to improve this again at the beginning of the winter semester through more events, such as the January Know Your Rights Campaign.
Sobat also had a hand in the development of the Policy against Sexual Violence that was approved at the Nov. 23 Senate meeting. SSMU organized consultation focus groups in order to ensure that the final policy accurately represents survivors. A working group has been created in order to develop plans for a Fall break, but it only met once.
Sobat also sought to create a SSMU policy on unpaid internships. Due to the resignation of the policy’s researcher, however, the policy has not been completed and will not be brought to SSMU Council for approval until Winter 2017. Sobat has also made efforts to review other important policies that affect students, such as the Code of Student Conduct and current procedures surrounding academic accommodation.
David Aird: VP External
Aird has been leading discussions with the Milton-Parc Community with the aim of improving relations. He has also campaigned to raise awareness among McGill students, who have an impact on residents who have been living in the neighbourhood for decades.
Aird has been vocal on issues regarding austerity and asked to be present at various faculty councils to have faculty members sign in support of anti-austerity measures. Preparation for an Anti-Austerity Week next semester is ongoing.
Aird has also worked with the Indigenous Affairs Committee in order to revisit the Indigenous Solidarity Policy. Aird wants to improve consultation with indigenous communities on issues such as the relocation of the Hochelaga rock, which was done hastily and lacked a wide-ranging discussion with different indigenous groups. He wants to rethink the way that the few indigenous students on campus are consulted in order to avoid overwhelming them with all of their communities’ issues .
Although students rejected a referendum question for SSMU to join AVEQ in WInter 2016, SSMU still participates in the federation’s meetings as an observer. However, it is unclear whether Aird has a specific plan to pitch AVEQ to students again.
Niall Carolan: VP Finance
Under Carolan’s portfolio, the SSMU operating budget has reached a surplus. According to his report to Council on Nov. 3, Carolan is optimistic that the SRC will break even and possibly become modestly profitable. Through activities that drive foot traffic into the SSMU building, such as B-Week— as well as the indirect consequences of construction—Carolan is seeking to ensure a balanced budget despite the constraints of significant budget cuts.
In a period of budgetary restraint, Carolan has met with various clubs and services, including the Sexual Assault Centre of the McGill Students' Society (SACOMSS) and the Savoy Society, to ensure their financial relationship with the society. Carolan has also worked to streamline the application for student group funding through the SSMU Funding Committee. The new online platform will launch at the beginning of Winter 2017.
Following structural changes in the 2015-2016 year, human resources was moved into the VP Finance portfolio. However, it currently seems that a large portion of these responsibilities are still being handled by the President.
Communication with the study body has been notably absent thus far in Carolan’s tenure. While he promised to provide frequent updates on the budget, fees, and funding through the SSMU website and Facebook page, this has so far not come to fruition. Moreover, consultation with students on budget issues has been seemingly limited, as has communication with the media, particularly in regards to SSMU’s investment portfolio. It is currently unclear what progress has been made on the Socially Responsible Investment Fund, which he had aimed to create in Fall 2016.