With student consultation as one of the main themes of the semester, President Zach Newburgh has thus far done an exemplary job representing the students at McGill.
Newburgh was an effective public face during the Arch Café saga and helped to mobilize students by speaking at the first café rally and standing up to the administration at numerous senate meetings. Out of this, he was able to help establish the student consultation group. However, only time will tell whether this will be an effective or useful committee.
Newburgh has been a strong but tempered voice at council meetings. By abstaining on certain more controversial issues, he has done a good job serving the role of president as a moderate representative of the students without injecting any personal ideologies into voting. He has also shown himself to be extremely accessible to the press and to students, as he is often available to chat in his office and has also hosted numerous “Meet the SSMU President” lunches.
This Fall’s General Assembly was, yet again, a dismal failure, but this is not entirely Newburgh’s fault. Although SSMU can set up well-planned events, it is up to the students to engage in them (this was also an issue with this year’s less than successful HomeKoming). Newburgh has said that he wants serious GA reform and we think it’s about time that SSMU execs stop talking about creating committees to “review the GA’s effectiveness” and actually act on change. Throughout the rest of the academic year, Newburgh ought to push hard to abolish—or at least aggressively reform—the GA in favour of a more useful system for passing resolutions.
VP University Affairs
Josh Abaki began his year by accomplishing something he promised during his campaign: extending the Redpath library’s hours. He has also been the most persistent student voice in senate regarding the Architecture Café. On this matter, he was the forceful advocate many students desired. Abaki has the important responsibility of representing SSMU on the new Student Consultation Group headed by Deputy Provost (Student Life and Learning) Morton Mendelson, which will hopefully provide a new method for students to participate in university decision-making.
We hope Abaki looks for avenues of cooperation and partnership rather than antagonism. Impressively, Abaki has successfully persuaded students to participate in various university committees, which has in the past been a huge challenge for this portfolio.
While Abaki suffered slightly from misinformation regarding proposed changes to the Athletics Board, his vigilance on the matter and his zeal for representing students’ interests were impressive. Looking forward to next semester, we hope Abaki does his best to express students’ interests to the administration regarding contact hours.
So far this year, Vice-President External Myriam Zaidi has been focused on two major projects: building up the Quebec Student Roundtable (QSR), and fighting tuition hikes. Zaidi has devoted significant time and effort to QSR, which is poised to be a successful alternative to the province’s other student lobbying groups such as FEUQ and ASSE. In particular, she’s taken an active role in the communications side of the organization, helping coordinate QSR’s campaign and promotion materials. Most important for McGill students, Zaidi is working to ensure that QSR’s communication strategy is accessible to both Francophone and Anglophone students in the province. Since September, Zaidi has also been actively working to prevent tuition increases and to mobilize McGill students around this cause. To do this, she relaunched Tuition Truth, SSMU’s anti-tuition truth campaign, including a revamped website. Zaidi is also organizing buses for student protesters to attend the Meeting of the Education Partners in Quebec City on December 6. While Zaidi has also been busy with the typical VP external task of “community building” with the Milton-Parc community, this will largely be a futile task as long as Frosh happens every September. Overall, Zaidi has played an important role in the growth of QSR and has taken practical steps towards organizing McGill students who oppose tuition increases. While the Tribune commends these efforts, we hope Zaidi will diversify her portfolio next semester as her predecessor Sebastian Ronderos-Morgan did, for example with Fill the Hill and the campaign to gain paid practicum for Education students.
Tom Fabian’s remake of the SSMU listserv has given people something to talk about this year. Is he refreshing SSMU’s announcements or is he getting in the way? Is he funny or not? The Tribune leaves this to its readers to decide. If nothing else, he’s a risk-taker who’s not afraid to try new ideas on a traditionally apathetic student body. Most importantly, he introduced HomeKoming, a new series of SSMU-sponsored events around October’s Homecoming football game. It was a new and ambitious idea, but not a runaway success (despite offering a pancake kegger at Gert’s). Events often take a few years to become well-established, however. Don’t be surprised if it becomes a bigger event overtime.
Fabian also introduced the Get Ready website to hype SSMU events, which is a well-developed promotional tool. His edition of 4Floors was a huge success, and a winter semester sequel is in the works. With Gert’s making plenty of money, the second annual Week 101 in January should do well. Fabian also plans to have a three-day music festival tentatively called SSMUthFest. The VP Internal has always been an event coordinator, and Tom Fabian is an excellent one. Whether you think he’s funny or not, he’s doing his job.
Anushay Irfan Khan
VP Clubs and Services
Anushay Khan has started the year off well for the most part. She has taken on some worthy new initiatives, such as facilitating the establishment of the Plate Service, creating a rubric to help standardize office selection, adding sections on sustainability to club “how-to” documents, setting up the SSMU break-out room, and putting advanced room bookings online to help clubs get space in the Shatner Building more easily. She has also maintained her portfolio well, running a smooth Activities Night and otherwise supporting many of the services and clubs.
At the same time, Khan has made some decisions that call her priorities into question. Particularly, she spent significant time defending QPIRG during the opt-out period, a strange decision considering that QPIRG is not under SSMU, and thus does not fall under her purview, except for “maintaining relations.” Moreover, she adopted some unprofessional rhetoric in her responses to those encouraging the opt-outs like the Swiss Club. She also wrote “FML” as her entire report about opt-outs, and told councillors that a General Assembly motion about club sovereignty discouraged them from advocating opt-outs.
Still, Khan has shown admirable devotions to students’ causes. Next semester, we would like to see her take up the mantle on clubs being allowed to use the McGill name again. She spent a lot of time on this at the beginning of the year, but has not reported on it since it went unresolved in September. This is something important to all clubs, and a worthy priority for her to renew.
We recognize that this involves negotiating with an often stubborn administration, and that she does not have as much interface with administrators as the president or VP university affairs. Therefore, working with these members of her executive should be a priority and Khan should focus on regular reports to council.
VP Finance and Operations
Nick Drew has done an impressive job managing the finance and operations portfolio this semester, especially with his effective promotion of Gert’s. Drew has built on the work of his predecessor, Jose Diaz, and turned the bar into a popular campus hangout space with revenues to match. We hope the bar will perform just as well next semester.
SSMU’s decision to shut Haven Books, its financial sinkhole of a bookstore, at the end of last year has made Drew’s job much easier than for previous VP FOPs, though SSMU will continue to pay rent on the space into the winter semester. Drew’s replacement for Haven, an initiative called the Book Bazaar, was held at the beginning of the semester in the Shatner Building with modest success. The business model may need some tweaking, but we’re excited to see it improve next semester.
Due to a budget shortfall this semester, Drew has temporarily cut the funds allocated to bringing a speaker or musician to campus in the spring. Though we understand the decision, the Tribune hopes he will be able to reinstate the funds next semester. Last year’s Girl Talk concert and Salman Rushdie address were both extremely popular with students, and we’d love to see a similar event this spring.
SSMU Legislative Council
Grading any large public body—whether it’s Parliament or the Students’ Society Council—is something of an exercise in futility. Like Parliament, SSMU Council possesses a number of bright, articulate members as well as more obnoxious, less informed councillors. On the whole, however, this year’s council has been fairly competent, with many members speaking up during debate. This year’s executive has been less vocal than their predecessors, and councillors have stepped up their participation accordingly.
That council spends too much time debating trivial issues is a perennial complaint, and this year’s council has been no exception. Debates about procedural issues, such as changing certain aspects of Robert’s Rules of Order, have taken up too much time this semester, as well as motions to provide pizza, coffee, and tea to councillors.
Council has been noticeably divided between the left and right of the political spectrum this year, but councillors have kept their debates impressively civil, as Spencer Burger and Maggie Knight—who frequently but respectfully disagree—noted last week. This is a welcome change from previous years, when councillors had been known to storm out of the Lev Bukhman Room when motions failed to go their way.