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FYC considers additional reforms

News/SSMU by
(Lauren Benson-Armer / The McGill Tribune)

Many universities have clubs and services tailored to make the transition from high school to university as smooth as possible. In addition to the Inter-Residence Council (IRC) and various faculty first-year organizations, McGill has a First Year Council (FYC), an official student body which was created under the Students’ Society of McGill University (SSMU) in 2013.

At the start of each academic year, all first year students have the opportunity to nominate themselves and campaign for executive positions on the FYC. After a one week campaigning period, first year students elect for their FYC representatives individually via Elections SSMU. According to the FYC constitution, it is the aim of the elected body of five first-year students to foster a strong sense of community through social events and collaboration with other first-year groups. This year, FYC held a Town Hall at Gerts, a trip to Quebec City, a speed dating event, weekend trips to Ottawa and Toronto, and an end of year party.

According to SSMU Vice-President (VP) Internal Daniel Lawrie and FYC VP External Kevin Zhou, the group struggles with its lack of an institutional identity. SSMU Legislative Council put reforms in place in Fall 2013 to provide FYC with institutional support. SSMU executives serve as mentors to the FYC representatives, advising on issues concerning event locations, budgeting, and McGill bureaucracy. However, Lawrie said the mentoring system between the FYC and SSMU is not a formal process. According to FYC VP Finance Marie Fester, SSMU has been criticized for its lack of  communication and feedback. The resignation of two SSMU executives and FYC’s own VP Internal, for personal reasons, since February has made the Winter semester difficult for FYC.

“[By comparison, the Arts Undergraduate Society’s (AUS) First-Year Events, Academic, and Representative Council (FEARC) executives] receive more guidance from the AUS VP Internal,” said  Fester.

While AUS executives play an active role during FEARC meetings, Lawrie said that SSMU has a different role in FYC and provides mentoring on an ad-hoc basis.

Zhou and Lawrie said that there is little institutional memory in the FYC due to the annual turnover of SSMU and FYC executives. According Zhou, this issue has been compounded by the lack of updates made to the FYC constitution, which was last written and updated in 2013, despite the fact that it is supposed to be updated every year.

“Some issues in the current constitution are no longer relevant to the current FYC,” Zhou said. “For example, town halls require resources that the FYC doesn’t have [….Moreover,] the current constitution does not reflect the current structure of the FYC and needs to be something for the incoming council to fall back on.”

Zhou said that there are variations in the time commitments expected of each FYC representative. While other positions only require attendance at a weekly FYC meeting, the VP External position entails six to seven hours of meetings with the SSMU Legislative Council once every fortnight.

“Prospective candidates need to know what they’re getting into, as it is unfair on the people who are committed,” Zhou said.  

At this point in time, it is unclear what reforms will be made, according to Zhou. Fester would like to see FYC funding allocated to different initiatives and for more first-year seats to be offered on campus committees.

“FYC is not just a representative body, it’s also an opportunity for people to get involved,” Zhou said.

Although inexperienced members will always be a problem, the FYC will need to collaborate with more clubs to expand its reputation, according to Zhou. Moreover, Zhou said transitions within SSMU and the FYC will need to be handled more carefully, a process in which both Zhou and Fester are willing to help with when new executive members assume their roles on FYC next year.

SSMU Council passes Motion to Advocate for Changes to the Code of Student Conduct

News/SSMU by
(Christopher Li / The McGill Tribune)

On April 6, the Students’ Society of McGill University (SSMU) Legislative Council held its last meeting of the term. During this meeting, the Council passed a motion to advocate for changes to the McGill Code of Student Conduct and Disciplinary Procedures, addressed concerns surrounding the role of the Board of Directors (BoD), and discussed proposals evaluated by the Library Improvement Fund Committee (LIFC).

Motion to Advocate for Changes to the McGill Code of Student Conduct and Disciplinary Procedures to Support Survivors

The Motion to Advocate for Changes to the McGill Code of Student Conduct was moved in response to an article by The McGill Tribune titled “It doesn’t matter because it didn’t happen on campus,” published on April 4.

“A student at McGill was assaulted by another student and the McGill administration did not act to protect the survivor of the assault,” SSMU Clubs Representative Adam Templer said. “They claimed that this is a result of the specific limitations within the Code of Student Conduct and Disciplinary Procedures.”

The motion, which was passed unanimously, seeks to increase SSMU’s role in changing what circumstances fall under the McGill context in the Code of Student Conduct and to prevent a similar incident from happening in the future.

“[We are] trying to mandate next year’s executive team to take action in consultation and cooperation with the next year’s senators in order to push forward the creation of a committee involving students and faculty, to properly revise and address the Code of Student Conduct and Disciplinary Procedures,” Templer said.

Templer is disappointed in how the McGill administration handled the situation, in which McGill took little action to prevent the perpetrator of the assault from being in contact with the victim on campus.  

“What happened is completely unacceptable and the survivor was let down, and frankly this reflects poorly on the entire McGill community by the actions of the administration,” Templer said.

Vice-President (VP) University Affairs Erin Sobat encourages students to have a say in any revisions that will be made to the Code of Student Conduct and Disciplinary Procedures.

“The code is scheduled for review this fall,” Sobat said. “There’s also a number of other policies that are up for review in part of the context of the Policy Against Sexual Violence […] so ideally there should be a number of opportunities for student input as to what those changes look like.”

Library Improvement Fund Guest Speaker

According to Malcolm McClintock, the LIF commissioner, a majority of the student feedback from the 2016-2017 year called for having more accessible food options, consistent temperature control in the libraries, increasing the amount of study areas and relaxation space, and adding more outlets and charging devices.

There were certain requests asked for in student surveys that could not be provided by LIF, such as reopening the second entrance at the Redpath Library, as this would require hiring additional security. Other proposals that were rejected included implementing standing desks and sleep areas.

McClintock also addressed the progress of the Fiat Lux, a project to upgrade the Redpath-McLennan complex and to add a collection storage unit underneath the lower field.

“It’s been in the works for about two years, and I really think we need to start getting students’ voices in there because if we’re not smart about this, we might not be able to build the library that best represents us necessarily,” McClintock said.

Board of Directors Guest Speaker

The Board of Directors, the highest governing undergraduate student body at McGill, is in charge of supervising the management and affairs of SSMU.

According to Chloe Rourke, chair of the Board of Directors, a recurring problem is the Board not holding SSMU executives responsible for their actions.

“Complaints that were made by executives against executives were always mitigated by other executives,” Rourke said. “There was no higher body that would intervene, […] and if a complaint was made against a president, there was really no [governing] body that was able to hold them accountable.”


So far, no solution has been found to address this problem, but the Board is open to broad consultation with the community for potential solutions or ideas.

McGill Students’ Mental Health Working Group publishes open letter

McGill/News/SSMU by
(Noah Sutton / The McGill Tribune)

On March 31, the McGill Students’ Mental Health Working Group released an open letter addressed to Deputy Provost (Student Life and Learning) Ollivier Dyens, expressing concerns about the recent restructuring of McGill Counselling and Mental Health Services (MCMHS). Counselling and Mental Health Services were separate units until they were combined into one service in Fall 2016. This integration introduced the Stepped Care Model, which by design is intended to deliver the most effective and least intensive treatment to patients appropriate to their needs, according to the Student Services website.

According to Dyens, the integration of stepped care has shortened wait times.

We have eliminated a waitlist of more than 100 students from the Mental Health unit,” Dyens wrote in an email to The McGill Tribune. “By implementing Stepped Care, treatments start sooner because students first meet with the clinician who will follow their care.”

Though the wait list has been cut down, the changes have created new concerns. According to Erin Sobat, Students’ Society of McGill University (SSMU) Vice-President (VP) University Affairs, one of the issues has been the implementation of the Client Care Clinician (CCC) role as part of Stepped Care. Existing psychologists and psychotherapists have been assigned as CCCs, who act as case managers for students.

Students are randomly assigned a CCC who may be either a counselling psychologist or a clinical psychologist (psychotherapist) […] this person is expected to provide them with therapy whether or not they are actually an appropriate match,” Sobat wrote in an email to the Tribune. “Our biggest concern is that this further limits access for students with mental illness to receive specialized psychological care, and may in fact put students in crisis or borderline situations in further danger [if they see a CCC who is not adequately trained to deal with the issue].”

According to Sobat, multiple students have reported difficulties in changing their CCC.

Chloe Rourke, mental health advocate and former Mental Health Education Coordinator at McGill Mental Health Services, wrote in an email to the Tribune that some staff have found the adjustments to their role challenging.

“[Staff] are now being asked to fulfill the role of case managers for each individual student in addition to being their therapists, but this is a fundamentally different role,” Rourke wrote. “A case manager is not necessarily the same person who should be providing direct treatment.”

The open letter also states that clinicians were silenced or dismissed when they raised concerns about the changes to MCMHS. According to a MCMHS staff member, who wished to remain anonymous, it became clear in the months building up to the suspension and subsequent departure of former clinical director Dr. Nancy Low in December 2016 that staff concerns were not being heard and that the changes would be integrated.  

Many of the issues regarding the harmonization of Counselling and Mental Health Services and the implementation of the stepped care model were apparent to staff members before the changes were implemented,” the staff member said. “[…] there is a feeling that these issues could have been avoided if clinicians and counsellors were properly consulted to begin with.

According to Associate Clinical Director Giuseppe Alfonsi, who has been the acting head of MHS, MCMHS is trying to find an interim replacement.

“Dr. Low is a dearly respected colleague of ours and certainly has been missed,” Alfonsi wrote in an email to the Tribune. “However, we are mostly looking towards the future and hoping to find a suitable interim replacement.”

The MCMHS staff member noted a shift in morale in the unit after Dr. Low’s suspension.

“For McGill to get rid of one of its own without adequate consideration of the effect on staff, and more importantly students, sends a clear message about the administration's priorities,” the staff member said.

Morgan Grobin, U3 Engineering, believes the integration is a step in the right direction, though she has encountered barriers in accessing the help she needs. Grobin waited from November 2016 to January 2017 to see a counsellor and was first referred to a psychiatric nurse before finally getting an appointment with a psychiatrist who was able to prescribe her medication.

“I wish the counsellor could have referred me directly to the psychiatrist,” Grobin said. “Once I accessed care, the outcome was always positive.”

Another student, who asked to remain anonymous, was hospitalized in second year and saw a psychiatrist, but was not set up for follow up appointments. Since then, the student has seen 10 other counsellors, psychiatrists, and therapists, several of whom left or went on leave shortly after beginning the student’s sessions. The student’s current therapist is reducing her hours.

“The feeling I’m getting is that there were a lot of promises made regarding the integration,” the student said. “I think [the doctors] are getting frustrated with the way things are getting set up. There are bound to be difficulties in putting together two offices that were working separately.”

Dyens noted that end-of year surveys have been scheduled for the Office for Students with Disabilities (OSD), the Student Health Service, and MCMHS. Dyens expressed that MCMHS is open to hearing student feedback.

“We [will] continue to listen to students about their concerns and will continue to adjust our services and practices as need be in order to better serve their needs,” Dyens wrote. “We want all our students to be treated with respect and care […] We will respond [to the open letter] by making sure our services are the best they can be.”

2016-2017 SSMU executive reviews

News/SSMU by
(Wendy Chen / McGill Tribune)

The McGill Tribune Editorial Board reviewed the 2016-2017 Students’ Society of McGill University (SSMU) executives on their performance. Although these summaries intend to review the executives' entire term, not all information received regarding each executive was published due to space constraints in the paper.

In its editorial discussion, the Tribune evaluated each executive based on feedback from student councillors and input from the executive teams. In previous years, the Tribune has given grades to the executives based on feedback from councillors and the discussion of the Editorial Board. Given the extraordinary circumstances facing the SSMU executive team this semester, in which period two of the executives resigned, the Tribune decided that it would be inappropriate to do so this year.

 

Vice-President Student Life and Acting President: Elaine Patterson

Following the resignation of former president Ben Ger, Vice-President (VP) Student Life Elaine Patterson assumed the role of Acting President. Despite the added workload and this semester's controversies, Patterson has risen to the occasion and is overseeing the groundwork for the SSMU Gendered and Sexualized Violence Policy (GSVP).

Prior to assuming the presidential portfolio, Patterson organized successful Activities Nights in both the Fall and Winter semester despite limitations due to construction on McTavish and the elimination of the student staff Activities Night Coordinator position. With a club moratorium in place for the entirety of her term, Patterson worked to make existing clubs more financially and spatially stable. Despite this effort, transparency about the mandatory transition from club status to independent student group (ISG) status that was applied to certain clubs prior to Patterson’s term was lacking.

Additionally, Patterson did not appear to place enough emphasis on the mental health aspect of her portfolio, especially considering that the McGill Counselling and Mental Health Services (MCMHS) underwent significant changes this year. Although she organized Mental Health Awareness Week and provided institutional support for services, such as the Peer Support Centre, more advocacy could have been done on the students’ behalf, as the changes to MCMHS continue to present challenges for students.

Despite these shortcomings, Patterson has remained approachable and dedicated to building relationships with SSMU members and groups within SSMU. Her unfailing energy and candor has been an asset to the SSMU executive team. By maintaining positive relationships with existing SSMU clubs and services, Patterson has paved the way for more efficient club management in the upcoming year. Despite increased responsibilities, Patterson continued to demonstrate patience and a willingness to hear student concerns.

 

Vice-President Internal: Daniel Lawrie

VP Internal Daniel Lawrie has organized a variety of successful events this year. Some of the highlights of his term include Faculty Olympics, which drew over 800 participants over the course of five days and was very well received. Lawrie also coordinated 4Floors, which was subject to underwhelming turnouts in recent years. Lawrie grew its attendance to around 1,000 attendees and the function mostly received positive feedback.

Moreover, Lawrie promoted Life After Your Degree (Life AYD) events, such as dining etiquette workshops, CV workshops, and LinkedIn Headshot sessions to improve SSMU’s involvement with practical concerns of its membership.

In hopes of better protecting students, Lawrie worked alongside the Office of the Dean of Students to sign a Memorandum of Understanding with the administration to have the McGill Code of Conduct apply to events within the VP Internal’s portfolio, such as 4Floors and Frosh. Still, Lawrie insufficiently advocated for the development of non-drinking focused activities while overseeing Frosh plans.

At the end of the 2015-2016 year, the responsibility of managing the First-Year Council (FYC) was moved to the Internal portfolio. While he gained experience in event planning throughout his term, Lawrie struggled to play an advisory role for the FYC. His failure to adequately guide the Council and to fully make use of its budget resulted in the FYC being a largely ineffective body for representing and engaging first-years.

Lawrie attributes the high open rate of the SSMU listerv this year to his inclusion of animated GIFs and catchy titles in emails. However, this method of increasing engagement by reducing the content of listservs has been criticized for being exclusionary.

Lawrie oversaw the SSMU Website Redesign project. The new site, which aims to provide easier access to information regarding student societies, will be launched in the upcoming year.

 

Vice-President Finance: Niall Carolan

Much of the VP Finance portfolio occurs largely behind the scenes of SSMU activity and VP Finance Niall Carolan has worked hard to tighten the SSMU budget. Having entered the position facing a $90,000 deficit, Carolan has helped bring SSMU to a surplus that will reach near $400,000 by the end of the 2016-2017 fiscal year. A significant portion of this surplus will be invested in SSMU human resources and departments that will better serve the student body. Additionally, following the resignation of the VP External and President, Carolan assumed several responsibilities from each portfolio, including a position on the McGill Board of Governors (BoG) and negotiations for the 2017-2021 Memorandum of Agreement (MoA) with the university.

A large part of Carolan’s success in bringing SSMU into a financial surplus entailed holding regular meetings with SSMU department managers and operations directors, using weekly sales reports and monthly rollup reports, and seeking external corporate sponsorship for SSMU. Yet, the latter action was controversial, sparking debate among the student body after advertisements were placed around the SSMU Building and used during Activities Night, which critics argued were distracting from the student clubs that were present.

Carolan worked to streamline the funding process for clubs, services, and groups by allowing clubs to apply for multiple funding sources within the same application and purchasing new funding software. Further, Carolan achieved better financial transparency for SSMU by separating staff salaries, executive salaries, and operational staff salaries. He also budgeted a Financial Assistant to the VP Finance for the 2018 operating year and established a Social Responsibility Investment Fund for the upcoming year.

Though Carolan’s time on the SSMU Executive Committee was successful, he was often difficult to reach and unavailable to students and the student media. However, his changes to the budget led to what Carolan reports to be the largest operational surplus on record.

 

Vice-President Operations: Sacha Magder

VP Operations Sacha Magder began the year with the Crash Pad program, a successful initiative that provides a safe place in the SSMU Ballroom for commuter students to stay overnight. Magder’s other main accomplishment was improving SSMU MiniCourses. Although Fall 2016 numbers were similar to the numbers in the previous year, in Winter 2017, MiniCourses revenue increased from $6,214 to $15,635. Magder attributes this success to more active marketing and emphasis on professional skills courses, such as a popular new graphic design class.

Both Gerts and Sadie’s have also made financial improvements. Parts of large events, such as Carnival, Science Games, and Engineering Games, were held at Gerts as opposed to off-campus establishments. Further, Sadie’s revenue doubled and this year’s deficit is predicted to be 30 to 50 per cent smaller than last year’s. Yet, Magder’s rebranding efforts for Sadie’s were unimpressive and it is unclear how much of the increase in business was simply the McTavish construction rerouting students through the SSMU Building.

Sustainability objectives were moved to the VP Operations portfolio at the end of the 2015-2016 academic year. With regards to this mandate, Magder brought sustainability representatives from different faculties together in a Cross Campus Sustainability Council. Plans are underway for sustainability checklists, sustainability education, and sustainable Frosh suppliers.

It has taken time for Magder to communicate and implement his ideas, such as the plan to put up Aboriginal artwork in SSMU and the SSMU Courtyard Garden Project. How much of this is the result his portfolio being new and how much can be attributed to recent disruptions within SSMU have yet to be determined, but what is clear is the creativity and energy that Magder puts into his work.

 

Vice-President University Affairs: Erin Sobat

VP University Affairs (UA) Erin Sobat approached the position with a great deal of energy and enthusiasm this year. He delivered on multiple campaign promises, including a successful Know Your Rights campaign, and increased the visibility of the UA portfolio via social media with a new website. Sobat also played an important role in developing and passing the university’s Policy on Sexual Violence in the Fall, building on the wish of his predecessors and working to bring the work of other student groups to bear in negotiations with the administration. In the second semester of his term, however, Sobat was often complicit in the poor handling of SSMU controversies.

Sobat also developed a monthly UA listserv, which provided updates on developments in student advocacy resources, projects, and research. Sobat put a SSMU policy on unpaid internships into motion, pursued a centralized model for academic accommodations administered by faculties instead of individual professors, and made progress on revising tenure guidelines to include a mental health training requirement.

In the equity portion of the UA portfolio, Sobat helped produce guidelines for a formal policy on equitable hiring at McGill, with first training session held at the end of March. Progress on this issue  was delayed after SSMU President Ben Ger’s resignation in March, but significant groundwork has been laid for implementing a policy in the future. Work on equitable governance reform was also pushed back with Ger’s resignation. Sobat worked on developing a baseline equity training workshop to accompany the Academic Integrity Tutorial on Minerva, a project that will continue into next year.

Aside from Sobat’s many successes on the student advocacy and equity portions of his portfolio, some of his actions this year betrayed the lack of adequate internal procedures within SSMU for dealing with disclosures regarding executives and SSMU staff. Sobat faced criticism for his support of former Arts Representative Igor Sadikov after his controversial tweet on Feb. 6. Sobat also failed to reveal former VP External David Aird’s weekly “check-ins” in the Fall semester. Sobat acknowledged that he knew about allegations of gendered violence against Ger ahead of time, but did not share them with the other SSMU executives–they were only made public after Ger’s resignation.

SSMU to develop Sexualized and Gendered Violence Policy

News/SSMU by
(Hannah Taylor / The McGill Tribune)

On March 23, the Students’ Society of McGill University (SSMU) announced plans to hold an open forum on April 11 to discuss the creation and implementation of a SSMU Gendered and Sexualized Violence Policy (GSVP).

The creation of the GSVP was proposed after former SSMU vice-president (VP) External David Aird resigned following allegations of sexual assault and gendered violence. Aird stepped down on Feb. 22 following a statement released by the Community Disclosure Network (CDN) that claimed that Aird had performed acts of sexualized and gendered violence prior to and during his SSMU term. Additionally, a second SSMU executive, President Ben Ger, resigned on March 9 after allegations of gendered violence were brought against him.

The announcement also stated that current and future SSMU executives will now be trained on how to respond to disclosures of sexual violence. Additionally, SSMU opened an anonymous feedback form and will work with CDN on a long-term action plan for confronting sexualized violence within SSMU.

VP Student Life and Acting President Elaine Patterson admitted that the implementation of the university’s current Policy against Sexual Violence (SVP)–which was approved by Senate on Nov. 23–has been slow, but is nonetheless important.

“There are concerns about […] how long it is taking to implement [the SVP] and advertise it to students,” Patterson said. “[….We need a policy because] there are students who have been in positions of power who now have allegations against them of gendered and sexualized violence [….] A policy specifically tailored by SSMU and for SSMU is ideal in those scenarios.”

The CDN will advise SSMU during the development of the GSVP and at the open forum. On March 27, the CDN released a second statement emphasizing that the GSVP should be pro-survivor and easily accessible to students. In an interview with The McGill Tribune, a member of the CDN explained the organization’s role in creating the GSVP. The member requested to remain anonymous.

“SSMU is relying pretty heavily on [the] CDN […] because they just don’t have the structure to deal with [creating a policy],” the member said. “[….] The new ideas for protocol and what exactly needs to happen needs to come from the survivors in our community [rather than SSMU or admin].”

CDN will lead a number of initiatives in addition to its collaboration with SSMU, including three closed focus groups for survivors of sexualized violence to provide input on the SSMU GSVP. Beginning in April and continuing into next year, CDN will also organize roundtable discussions and workshops with student-led groups to address disclosures of sexualized violence.

“We’ll facilitate [training] on anti-oppressive policy-making, the frameworks of pro-survivor work, how to properly deal with disclosures, and some of the language around some of these things,” the member said.

According to Patterson, SSMU currently has no formal avenue for reporting and addressing sexualized and gendered violence. The CDN member explained that the only way to remove someone from the Executive Committee is through a General Assembly (GA). In order to avoid publicly identifying survivors at a GA, complainants’ only other option is to disclose to the SSMU Board of Directors (BoD).

In Fall 2016 two student groups, NDP McGill and McGill Against Austerity (MAA), became aware of allegations against Aird before SSMU, but were unable to remove Aird from office without identifying the survivors. In an email to The McGill Tribune, Cole Eisen, NDP McGill representative, wrote that the absence of a reporting mechanism that preserved survivor anonymity protected Aird’s tenure at SSMU.

“A clear, [survivor-oriented GSVP] coming from SSMU would benefit NDP McGill by providing our organization with a mechanism to remove offending members, respect the desire for anonymity on the part of individuals coming forward, and decouple holding positions of power within student organizations from the policy's implementation,” Eisen wrote. “NDP McGill seeks a clearly defined complaint mechanism, assurances those who hold positions of power in SSMU will not be above the policy, and a victim-first orientation that consults those affected at each decision-making juncture.”

SSMU Restructuring: How the addition of VP Operations affected SSMU

News/SSMU by
(Christopher Li / The McGill Tribune)

Near the end of the 2015-2016 term, the Students’ Society of McGill University (SSMU) Legislative Council amended the SSMU constitution to separate the Vice-President (VP) Finance & Operations portfolio into two new positions starting in 2016-2017: VP Finance and VP Operations, which has been renamed as VP Sustainability & Operations.

Currently, the VP Operations Portfolio oversees the revenue-generating operations of SSMU, including Gerts, Sadie’s, and MiniCourses. Although these responsibilities have always existed under VP Finance & Operations, previous executives were unable to focus on both finances and operations because of the overarching scope of the portfolio.

Last year’s executives were also heavily affected by the absence of a General Manager (GM) in the fall semester. Zach Houston, the 2015-2016 VP Finance & Operations, was unable to properly manage building operations since the demands of finances alone became too overwhelming. Kimber Bialik, the 2015-2016 VP Clubs & Services, which was restructured to become VP Student Life in 2016-2017, became responsible for facilities during crises. As a result, the current VP Operations Sacha Magder was trained collectively by Bialik and Houston due to their respective knowledge of facilities and finances.

“[….] Since Zach [Houston] was more involved with finances, he really didn’t have enough information [on operations],” Magder said. “Kimber was in charge of buildings only when crises came up, [and] did not have time to do long-term building plans. September and October was a huge adjustment period.”

MiniCourses were especially affected by Magder’s difficult transition. He has since improved its low registration rate of 224 in the Fall 2016 to 406 in the winter semester.

“I take [the low registration rate] as partially my own responsibility,” Magder said. “But at the time, we did try our best. Now, at least, I feel confident enough to train my successors, so that they don't have that lack of knowledge when they start in September.”

Since the splitting of the VP Finance & Operations portfolio, Magder has also taken over the sustainability objectives, which were originally under the President’s portfolio. He has worked on issues such as waste management and community outreach.

“I am in charge of supervising the environment commissioner, who runs the environment committee [.…] And work very closely with the McGill Office of Sustainability, Magder said. “I am also organizing the SSMU Courtyard Garden Project that is [being developed] in the back of the SSMU Building.”

The division of responsibilities and the addition of a seventh executive has also allowed current VP Finance Niall Carolan to concentrate solely on budgets and administrative work, such as cheque requests. At the end of his term, Carolan will set the budget for next year’s executive.

“In the end of the year, we are hoping to post a $100,000 surplus above breakeven,” Carolan said. “The money will be invested back into the Capital Expenditures Reserves Fund. Any money beyond the surplus will be invested back into the society. I would like to see more investments into student resources next year, as this year the staff has faced challenges of budget constraints from last year’s deficit.”

Despite the separation, VP Finance and VP Operations are still closely related: While VP Operations handles the day-to-day affairs, VP Finance oversees the monthly profits to make sure they align with the set targets. For the upcoming year, VP Finance and VP Sustainability & Operations, and will likely remain close.

“We can put more of an emphasis on sustainability and physical spaces, which is great,” VP Operations-elect Anuradha Mallik said. “Considering [that VP Finance-elect] Arisha [Khan] and I have an established relationship already, I feel like collaboration will be easy and effective.”

AUS Legislative Council appoints VP Finance and Arts Representative replacements

News/SSMU by
(Alex Gardiner / The McGill Tribune)

At the Arts Undergraduate Society (AUS) Legislative Council meeting on March 22, Noah Lew and Catherine Jeffery were appointed to fill two vacant positions on the Council, Vice-President (VP) Finance and Arts Representative to SSMU. The Council also discussed possible projects to improve the Leacock Building, such as renovating the Arts Lounge. A plan to repurpose the Leacock terrace into an amphitheatre and the Leacock Space Project–which aims to redesign certain spaces within the Leacock Building–were also discussed.

The Council also provided an update on the 2017 Arts Frosh. According to VP Social Kat Sviknushin, the Arts Frosh Committee has already been hired and a record-breaking number of over 700 applications for Arts Frosh Leaders were received this year.

Motions to appoint VP Finance and Arts Representative to SSMU

Arts Financial Management Committee (FMC) Representative Lew was appointed as AUS VP Finance to replace former VP Finance Deepak Punjabi, who resigned on March 20. Lew was elected AUS VP Finance in the 2017 AUS Winter Executive Election on Feb. 23 for the 2017-18 term and was previously scheduled to begin his term on May 1.

“This motion would allow me to begin my term early so there’s no interim period when AUS has no one responsible for AUS finances,” Lew said. "I’ve already been doing my training and transition sessions with the previous VP Finance, so I’m aware of my duties and [I’m] able to perform them.”

AUS President Becky Goldberg addressed the confusion and speculation around Punjabi’s reason for resignation.

“[Punjabi] found a job off campus,” Goldberg said. “The reason we didn’t [reveal this initially] is because you shouldn’t necessarily be encouraged to find a job part way through another job, but I’m glad that he’s doing what he needs to do.”

Arts Community Engagement (ACE) Committee Commissioner Jeffery was appointed as the Arts Representative to SSMU. She was elected as the incoming Arts Representative for the 2017-18 term, but will start her term early as a replacement for former Arts Representative Igor Sadikov, who resigned from his position on March 8.

Space improvements to Leacock Building

Councillors discussed the progress of the Leacock Space Project, an initiative that was started in 2014 to redesign and renovate spaces in the Leacock Building. Plans for SNAX–the student-run cafe located on the first floor of Leacock–are included in the project.

“[The Leacock Space Project] is pretty costly and we don’t have the money for it, but there are a few things that are pretty central and would actually improve student life, like adding seating at SNAX,” Goldberg said.

According to Goldberg, AUS was unable to apply to the Arts Undergraduate Improvement Fund (AUIF) for funding to implement these changes, as a commitment of finances from the Faculty of Arts was not pledged until after AUIF deadlines. However, there is the possibility of casting an online vote to secure funding with AUIF, specifically to install coverage for recycling bins, trash cans, and seating at SNAX.

A majority of the Council expressed their interest in renovating the Arts Lounge space in the Leacock basement. Goldberg explained that in order to make any significant changes to the lounge, AUS must consult with Campus Space and Planning, then hire professionals to assess the lounge and decide what improvements can be made.

VP Academic Erik Partridge spoke about the Leacock Terrace, for which construction is scheduled to begin in 2018.

“[McGill is] planning to renovate the Leacock Terrace to include an amphitheatre in the space between Leacock and McTavish, which would involve re-sloping that area, and they would like to make it available for students,” Partridge said.

Partridge also expressed concerns he had about the practicality of the amphitheatre.

“It’s somewhat problematic because it would be an outdoor amphitheatre without a roof and I don’t know how many of you actually want to stay outside in the winter,” Partridge said.

SSMU Council votes to remain an observer at AVEQ

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(Lauren Benson-Armer / The McGill Tribune)

“Order an Angelot” Campaign

At the March 24 Students’ Society of McGill University (SSMU) Legislative Council meeting, Lev Bukhman and Marie Gauthier, national coordinators of “Sans Oui C’est Non” (Without Yes, It’s No), and Alliance pour la Santé Étudiante au Québec (ASÉQ) presented on the “Order an Angelot” campaign. The initiative helps bar patrons feel safe by giving them the option to pretend to order a fake drink known as the “Angelot.” This code word will alert bar staff to a situation in which a patron may be in danger, so that they can react accordingly.

“The campaign aims to create a very simple and clear and certain way for people to get help if they do not feel safe, are in danger, or are victims of sexual assault,” Bukhman said. “The idea is to create a very simple code word that is widely known [and] widely understood.”

Councillors raised concerns over who the program would target. Specifically, it was criticized for not consulting sexual violence survivors and relying on bartenders, who may be poorly trained in handling such incidents.

“I am concerned about this campaign,” Nursing Representative Mckenzie Gingrich-Hadley said. “Mostly because it seems like they have not done any consultation with survivors of sexual violence at all at how this can be helpful. It has also been painfully obvious, recently, that consent education is not necessarily an effective way to stop sexual violence from happening.”

 

Motion on Participation in AVEQ

SSMU passed a motion to continue observer status on the Association for the Voice of Education in Quebec (AVEQ) and consider joining it as a full member in the Fall 2017 referendum. AVEQ is a provincial-level student association that was designed to increase the bargaining powers of Quebec university students. Following students’ vote against SSMU affiliating with AVEQ in the Winter 2016 referendum, SSMU has had observer status on AVEQ. 

While this guarantees SSMU no more than the ability to observe AVEQ sessions, AVEQ encourages its observers to participate in the decision-making processes. At Council, questions were raised about the organization’s budget, which Vice-President (VP) University Affairs Sobat claimed may have been overestimated.

“I recognize that maybe some of the updates and information on what was happening with AVEQ and the deficit could have been more actively reported,” Sobat said. “This motion is to ensure we are continuing to be at that table and are able to voice the concerns of SSMU members to this federation.”

After further deliberation, the motion was passed with 14 in favour, six against, and three abstaining.

 

Motion Regarding Endorsement of “No” Vote for Athletics & Recreation Fee Increase

Finally, the Legislative Council passed the motion to endorse “No” for the Athletics & Recreation Fee Increase. Sobat cited the same concerns that led to the recent motion against ancillary fee increases, which was invalidated due to an existing contract between SSMU and the McGill administration. The previous motion, which passed at the Winter 2017 General Assembly, would have had SSMU not approving ancillary fee increases until McGill met certain obligations.

Sobat critiqued McGill for its lack of transparency when increasing funds, raising his concern with the fact that Athletics & Recreation overhead charges have increased by 40 per cent since 2014. With reference to McGill Athletics specifically, Sobat highlighted the lack of investigation into sexual violence by McGill athletes.

“I’ve had many conversations with the deputy provost about this where I most recently asked on the February Student Services meeting,” Sobat said. “I asked him where these overhead charges were going and how they justified the deductions. They have no formula for actually determining them.”

The motion passed with 13 in favour, four against, and five abstaining.

SSMU motion against ancillary fee increases invalidated by legal contract

News/SSMU by
(Hannah Taylor / The McGill Tribune)

On Feb. 20 at the Students’ Society of McGill University (SSMU) Winter 2017 General Assembly (GA), the Motion Regarding Policy Against Ancillary Fee Increases was introduced by Vice-President (VP) University Affairs Erin Sobat.

The motion was approved at the GA and scheduled for online ratification until, according to Sobat, the SSMU executives were informed of a pre-existing and contradictory contract with the McGill administration.

Had it been enacted, motion would have had SSMU not approving referenda questions for increasing ancillary fees, also known as frais institutionnels obligatoires (FIOs) or mandatory institutional fees, until the university met certain conditions. Some of these conditions include implementing a moratorium on increasing overhead charges, developing a transparent formula for overhead fees, and McGill providing yearly financial information to the Executive Committee about the distribution of all ancillary fees by SSMU members.

The motion was moved due to concerns about overhead fees that are charged to fee-funded units, such as Student Services, Student Housing and Hospitality Services, and Athletics and Recreation. Yearly budgets of the above units would each need to be approved by a university committee with at least parity student representation.

Currently, both graduate and undergraduate McGill students are required to pay annual non-opt-outable FIOs that support fee-funded units. These fees vary from approximately $1,500 to $3,000, depending on the student’s residency status and program of study.

“The fees that you would have to pay […] that are not part of the tuition […] would be the student services fees,” Kyana Alexandre, student services secretary, said. “You would have to pay fees for [services, such as] the student society, the transcripts and diploma, and the McGill writing centre […] a lot of them are not expensive, but it’s just that they accumulate.”

According to the motion, required university overhead charges for fee-funded units have risen significantly since 2010. Overhead fees are not regulated and are exempt from ministerial control in Quebec, meaning that universities are able to change overhead fees through a referendum process, but without provincial restriction. These overhead fees fund resources such as legal, accounting, and maintenance services—which are not provided through the central university operating budget.

Governmental regulation of ancillary and overhead fees is difficult, as fees can be numerous and vary greatly between different institutions, while power over these fees are usually distributed among different administrative services.

The Post-Graduate Students’ Society (PGSS) Secretary-General Victor Frankel said that PGSS does not have a contract similar to SSMU’s.

“The requirement for PGSS to run a referendum on [FIOs] specifies that [the Legislative Council] initiates the process, but [the university] can’t compel us to run a referendum if, [after we] initiate it, Council votes to not put the question out,” Frankel said.

PGSS’ ability to vote on fee increases before they are put to referendum was demonstrated on Feb. 15, when the PGSS Legislative Council vetoed a request for an ancillary fee increase from McGill Athletics and Recreation.

“The university […] said that PGSS has to put the motion up for referendum, but PGSS responded that if they were compelled to initiate the process […they] complied with the mandate by putting the question up to Council,” Frankel said.

According to Sobat, services that are funded by [FIOs] are charged overhead fees because they are not considered to be part of the university’s main operating budget.

“The issue is that there is no formula for determining how those charges are levied and they have been increasing exponentially the past few years, alongside overall budget cuts to the university,” Sobat said.

Sobat wrote in an article for The McGill Daily in September 2016 that overhead charges on Student Services have increased from $30,679 in 2009 to $651,385 in 2016. According to Sobat, SSMU cannot legally renegotiate their contract with the university.

“It’s indefinite, so there’s no end date on this agreement,” Sobat said. “[….] I’m not sure that the current Executive is in a position to look into the full legal scope of this contract. I would certainly encourage the next Executive to do so […] to ensure that [SSMU’s] rights [as] a student association are being respected.”

Frankel also believes that students should have more control over fees.

“A lot of […] services that should be provided [to students] by the university are being pushed on to students through all these extra fees,” Frankel said. “[….] If we’re paying for these services, there needs to be a specific effort to provide as much transparency as possible.”

Century resigns from MUSA Executive following backlash from SSMU campaign

McGill/News/SSMU by
(Lauren Benson-Armer / The McGill Tribune)

On March 16, the Music Undergraduate Students’ Association (MUSA) announced that Noah Century resigned from his position as Vice-President (VP) External. Century had previously campaigned for the Students’ Society of McGill University (SSMU) VP External Affairs position, but withdrew his candidacy after a Formal Censure from Elections SSMU.

Elections SSMU issued the censure on March 11 after Century told a reporter from The McGill Daily on March 7 that his takeaway from the allegations of sexual and gendered violence against former VP External Affairs David Aird was, “Don’t get caught.”

MUSA President Lauren Toccalino said that on March 9, Century let the MUSA Council know that comments he had made to The Daily may affect his SSMU campaign. MUSA received feedback from both music students and McGill students at large after the censure was issued. Toccalino said that although it was difficult to lose a member of the MUSA Executive, it was the right decision to call for Century’s resignation.

“Students were no longer feeling that [Century] was representing them,” Toccalino said. “It was also a council decision [to call for his resignation], not just students. [Century] was no longer fulfilling the responsibilities of his position to carry out the mandate of the MUSA Executive.”

Century said that he did not intend to cause anyone harm and that he regrets his statement to The Daily.

“Being a part of MUSA and a part of SSMU […] has been the most enjoyable part of this year,” Century said. “[….] Running for SSMU candidacy […] was the best part of this semester and losing all of that in less than a week has been a pretty serious blow. It's made all the worse because it was caused by a comment that was a mistake, a comment that I would not under any circumstance ever have said. At this time I'm still confused as to why I said it.”

At this time I'm still confused as to why I said it.

According to Toccalino, it is important to acknowledge comments and actions such as Century’s because they have an effect on larger conversations about sexual violence.

“MUSA will definitely be considering implementing a sexual violence and awareness workshop and a workshop that teaches executives how to use language and approach this topic in a safe way,” Toccalino said. “Those structures are not formally in place yet, but I hope to pass these along to the next [MUSA] president.”

MUSA will definitely be considering implementing a sexual violence and awareness workshop and a workshop that teaches executives how to use language and approach this topic in a safe way.

Although Century told The Daily reporter that his statement was a joke, SSMU Chief Electoral Officer Alexander Nehrbass received a formal complaint against Century on March 8. In an email to The McGill Tribune, Nehrbass wrote that upon investigation of Century’s comments, Elections SSMU decided that Century’s conduct was a violation of the SSMU Equity Policy.

“Censuring [Century] was a difficult decision to make–[…] Elections SSMU is supposed to remain neutral and uninvolved in promoting or hurting a candidate’s campaign as far as possible,” Nehrbass wrote. “[….] I felt the right precedent to set in this situation was to put aside Elections SSMU's duty of neutrality in order to stand by the SSMU's obligation to promote equity.”

I felt the right precedent to set in this situation was to put aside Elections SSMU's duty of neutrality in order to stand by the SSMU's obligation to promote equity.

After Century’s censure, a “Campaign Against Noah Century for SSMU VP External” event  was created on Facebook by Lauria Galbraith, U3 Arts, and Greta Hoaken, U3 Arts. Galbraith wrote in a message to The Tribune that the event was made in order to reach more students and make sure that the implications of Century’s comments were made clear.

“I think that there is no tolerance in situations like these because comments like Century’s are so incredibly belittling to the experience of survivors, as well as very ignorant to what rape culture is and how it gets perpetuated,” Galbraith wrote. “Most of the defence that I heard on Century’s behalf was that it was ‘just a joke,’ but it really wasn’t [….] There just isn’t a joke there.”

Most of the defence that I heard on Century's behalf was that it was 'just a joke,' but it really wasn't [….] There just isn't a joke there.

Hoaken wrote in a message to The Tribune that comments such as the one made by Century display a flippant attitude toward sexual violence. According to Hoaken, this type of attitude contributes to decisions that are not pro-survivor and which fail to create a safe campus environment–an issue that is especially important given recent events: Aird and former SSMU President Ben Ger recently resigned due to allegations of sexual and gendered violence, and former Arts Representative to SSMU Igor Sadikov resigned following accusations of psychological abuse in a past relationship.

“I think the key thing to note here is the difference between punishment and accountability,” Hoaken wrote. “We aren't punishing Century for what he said simply because we did not like it. Rather, we are raising the issue that if you are going to make light of the trauma suffered by survivors, then you probably aren't fit to hold public office at McGill–especially given the context of this year's resignations.”

We are raising the issue that if you are going to make light of the trauma suffered by survivors, then you probably aren't fit to hold public office at McGill—especially given the context of this year's resignations.

Additionally, Galbraith wrote that Century’s continued actions on social media did not demonstrate that his apology was sincere.

“[…After] issuing a public apology, Century liked a comment on [his] post which said […], ‘Too many triggered sjws [sic] right,’” Galbraith wrote. “So, it does not seem like [Century] actually felt remorse for his statement or understood why it was taken as such a grave offence.”

According to Century, his apology was genuine and weight should not be placed on the comments that he liked on Facebook.

“I know there are a lot of people that were saying that because I liked that comment, that clearly indicated that my apology was not sincere and it absolutely was,” Century said. “At the exact moment where I published my apology […] the situation was over and I was trying to move on. So, I was reading through the comments and some I found resonated true and some I found just simply amusing, and I just starting liking some of them.”

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