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SSMU

SSMU Council discusses governance, financing student activities

News/SSMU by
(Zoe Yalden / The McGill Tribune)

On Nov. 30, the Students’ Society of McGill University (SSMU) held its last Legislative Council session of the Fall semester. At the meeting, SSMU Funding Commissioner Lauréanne Pelletier gave a presentation on financing student activities. Council also passed the Motion Regarding the Provision of Bridge Funding for Savoy Society and discussed the Governance Changes Working Group.

 

Funding Commissioner Presentation

At the beginning of the meeting, SSMU Funding Commissioner Lauréanne Pelletier provided an overview of the different SSMU funds available to students and clubs. In the past year, the Funding Committee approved financing for a variety of projects, including $6,000 for the McGill Iron Rink, an outdoor ice rink on lower field.

So far, the committee has reviewed 72 funding applications, and approved 55 of them, amounting to $60,000 in funding. Pelletier aims to raise awareness of existing SSMU funds so that more members can take advantage of the resources.

“We are not getting enough applications,” Pelletier said. “There is so much money left. The first thing I am doing is talking to different commissioners to try to partner up with them to promote the funds.”

Next semester, Pelletier will launch social media campaigns in partnership with Campus Life & Engagement (CLE) to inform students of the application procedures for funding.

 

Motion Regarding the Provision of Bridge Funding for Savoy Society

Council next considered a motion to loan $20,000 to the The McGill Savoy Society, a non-profit student theatre group, to cover costs for its annual production. Previously a SSMU Service, the Savoy Society relied on funds from the SSMU budget. However, in Fall 2016, the Service Review Committee decided that the Society’s activities did not qualify as services and thus it lost its status as well as the funding that SSMU provides to all of its services. Savoy Society President Hannah Moloshok and Treasurer Adrian Nagy attended Council as gallery members.

Given that the Savoy Society ran a deficit last year, Councillors were concerned with its ability to repay the loan. Moloshok claimed that the deficit is overstated because of accounting mistakes made while the Society was transferring money from the Service bank account to its own club bank account.

“Actually, the only loan that we still need to repay is $1,600,” Moloshok said. “Currently, we have already received $6,000 from our solicitations of the alumni association. Along with revenue from bake sales, donations, sponsors, crowd-funding campaigns, and ticket sales, we expect to pay back the debt in no time.”

Nagy seconded Moloshok’s statement, highlighting that, historically, the Savoy Society has exhibited budgetary success.

“In the past 10 school years, we have only had three deficits, and the rest were all surpluses,” Nagy said. “Based on last year’s numbers, we are expecting to make at least $16,000 in ticket sales this year.”

With a majority vote, this motion carried, effectively issuing a $20,000 loan to Savoy Society, with an expected repayment by May 31, 2018.

 

Governance Changes Working Group

The Governance Changes Working Group, spearheaded by SSMU Vice-President (VP) External Affairs Connor Spencer, aims to provide general education on SSMU governance to bridge the gap between students and their representatives.

“It is really irresponsible of us to start a conversation on governance changes without acknowledging that these procedures are so inaccessible to our membership,” Spencer said.

To address inaccessibility of governance documents, one of the working group’s suggestions is to create a Joint Board of Directors and Legislative Council Committee, which will house two working groups: One to review the legal wording of SSMU documents and another to increase the visibility of governance procedures.

“We also need to consider the things that have alienated our membership,” Spencer said. “Largely, those have been scandals, and the two biggest scandals have been sexual violence and [Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions] BDS. We have accountability to the people who elected us. So let’s stop discussing [these issues] behind closed doors.’’

The working group will send the proposed governance changes before the end of the nomination period on Feb. 22, 2018, to be ratified by SSMU members during the Winter 2018 Referendum.

Bill 151 exposes gaps in McGill Policy Against Sexual Violence

Montreal/News/SSMU by
(ctvnews.ca)

At the Nov. 1 sitting of the National Assembly of Québec, Minister for Higher Education Hélène David introduced Bill 151, which aims to prevent and fight sexual violence in higher education institutions. The bill would require all universities in the province to develop a policy against sexual violence that is separate from its other policies and includes guidelines for student orientations, training, and the handling of intimate relationships between students and faculty members.

“The purpose of this Act is to strengthen actions to prevent and fight sexual violence in higher education institutions and to help foster a healthy and safe living environment for students and personnel members,” Bill 151 reads. “To that end, the Act in particular provides for the implementation of prevention, awareness-raising, accountability, support and individual assistance measures.”  

The proposed bill is the product of months of consultations between David and representatives of various stakeholder groups, including the Students’ Society of McGill University (SSMU), Our Turn National Action Plan, and the Association of the Voice of Education in Quebec (AVEQ). McGill Associate Provost (Policies, Procedures, and Equity) Angela Campbell was also present at a number of these consultations, though she is confident that the university’s current Policy against Sexual Violence sufficiently complies with the bill’s proposed guidelines.

“The proposed legislation has symbolic value and stands to make a significant practical impact, foregrounding the shared responsibility that institutions, including post-secondary institutions, have to prevent and respond to sexual violence,” Campbell wrote in an email to The McGill Tribune. “McGill already meets most of the requirements of the proposed legislation, notably a commitment to mandatory education for all members of the campus community, a stand-alone Policy against Sexual Violence, and an Office that dedicates resources specifically to the support of survivors and to education and awareness-raising about consent and sexual violence.”

McGill’s Policy against Sexual Violence explicitly states that consent cannot be given in circumstances where an abuse of a relationship of trust, power, or authority occurs, such as in the relationship between a professor and their student. However, student offenders are under a different policy than faculty, who are held accountable to the Regulations Relating to the Employment of Tenure Track and Tenured Academic Staff.

After working extensively on improving McGill’s Policy, SSMU Vice-President (VP) External Connor Spencer feels that its structure improperly defines sexual violence and is not “stand-alone,” which she says would require outlining procedures for discipline independent from academic regulations.

“[McGill’s Policy is on] a separate piece of paper, but the procedures are still the procedures under the Code of Student Conduct, and that means that you automatically get transferred to procedures meant for academic infractions,” Spencer said. “It’s not trauma-informed, or survivor-centred, and it just doesn’t have those realities reflected in how those procedures are set out. For the policy to truly be stand-alone, it needs its own procedures as well.”

Further, Quebec’s Act respecting labour standards mandates that the university must keep many of its disciplinary processes confidential, keeping survivors in the dark about how the university handles their cases.

“If we really want to have procedures with professors, there needs to be a change in […] Quebec labour law,” Spencer said. “That’s something that really can only happen at the provincial level anyway.”

Caitlin Salvino, Co-Chair of Our Turn National Action Plan—a guideline encouraging student unions to adopt a pro-survivor stance at Canadian Universities—shares Spencer’s concerns about the importance of having a stand-alone policy. To ensure that action is taken, she believes that the provincial government should also provide formal channels for overseeing proper implementation of the bill at universities like McGill.

“The bill is not going far enough right now,” Salvino said. “It needs to create minimum standards for the policies that they’re mandating […] and there needs to be an oversight body that survivors can make a claim to or make a complaint to.”

 

The McGill Tribune is gathering student input to inform an investigation into the topic of professor abuses at McGill. If you’d like to participate in our survey or provide a tip or testimonial on the topic, please click here.

J-Board declines BoD case for lack of jurisdiction

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(Elli Slavitch / The McGill Tribune)

On Nov. 19, the Students’ Society of McGill University (SSMU) Judicial Board (J-Board) declined to hear a case challenging the Board of Directors (BoD) adding a question to the Fall Referendum. Several SSMU members initially criticized the additional question since its submission did not follow standard procedure. Ultimately the J-Board concluded that it has no jurisdiction over any BoD motion in general.

Following the events of the Fall 2017 General Assembly (GA), a number of SSMU members filed a petition calling to raise the GA quorum substantially. Although the petition received over 450 signatories, it was submitted too late to become a question in the online Fall Referendum. However, the BoD disregarded the Oct. 25 deadline and added a question to raise the quorum anyway, appealing to the Quebec Companies Act to classify online voting as a “general meeting.” Historically, this term has only applied to GAs, enabling motions passed there to be put up for online referendum; if the online referendum itself also counts as the general meeting, then GAs are effectively bypassed.

Shortly thereafter, Meara Kirwin, U2 Arts, and Gregoire Beaune, U3 Arts, filed a petition with the J-Board arguing that the BoD’s decision to move the motion was unconstitutional. On Nov. 8, the J-Board accepted jurisdiction to issue a ruling, but it later released a decision on Nov. 19 unanimously rejecting its jurisdiction over the BoD, reaffirming its inability to check the BoD’s power.

“[The J-Board] finds that the SSMU Constitution compels it to decline jurisdiction,” the J-Board wrote in its Nov. 19 decision.  “Section 1.1(b) specifies that the jurisdiction includes ‘the interpretation of all motions and resolutions passed by the Legislative Council, including the authority to declare invalid any act of the Legislative Council or the Executive Committee which violates the Constitution or Internal Regulations’ […] A glaring omission from this enumeration is the [BoD].”

In the absence of the J-Board’s jurisdiction, there are no channels within SSMU through which to contest the constitutionality of the Board’s motions. Further, no branch of SSMU has oversight over the BoD, which is itself currently composed mostly of unelected members-at-large. The membership of its Directors is also currently in a transitionary status because, although their incumbencies were set to end on Nov. 15, the J-Board has extended their terms indefinitely while it considers the constitutionality of the Fall GA BoD ratification vote. To amend this, Kirwin and Beaune are calling for constitutional reform and restructuring of SSMU governance.

“There is currently no body within SSMU that can check the BoD,” Kirwin said. “We would like to see extensive governance reform within SSMU to return the powers of the BoD to the Legislative Council, and to limit the authority of the BoD to formal approval of Council decisions.”

In an opinion piece published in The McGill Tribune, former Vice-President finance and director Arisha Khan cited the BoD’s disregard for due process and student consultation as one of her reasons for resigning. In an email to the Tribune, Khan explained that she believes the lack of checks and balances within SSMU has allowed the BoD to abuse its power.

“SSMU executives really cannot do anything themselves to change [the BoD], as only four execs sit on the board,” Khan wrote. At other student associations […] the Boards of Directors [is] comprised of the executive team [and] other elected representatives.”

Khan is advocating for a third party to advise SSMU on potential reforms, an idea that was previously discussed at SSMU Council last month. She believes that a complete overhaul of governance structures is necessary to ensure that SSMU is kept democratic.

“I feel that SSMU needs to have a complete governance review done by an external third party to figure out how we can most efficiently organize our governance structures so they are legally compliant,” Khan wrote. “While also being cognizant of SSMU’s role as a student association and therefore prioritizing democratic participation in governance and decision-making.”

SSMU President and BoD Chair Muna Tojiboeva did not provide a comment by press time.

Glustein v. Koparkar Judicial Board hearing held on General Assembly BoD ratification vote

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(Kendall McGowan / The McGill Tribune)

At a hearing held on Nov. 30, the Students’ Society of McGill University (SSMU) Judicial Board (J-Board) committed to delivering a verdict in the case of Glustein v. Koparkar by Dec. 31. The hearing concerned a dispute over the constitutionality of a motion passed at the at the Oct. 23 Fall 2017 General Assembly (GA) that divided the ratification of appointments to the Students' Society of McGill University (SSMU) Board of Directors (BoD) into a separate vote for each appointee. BoD appointments are typically ratified by GAs as a single ticket, with members-at-large voting either yes or no to the collective ratification of all appointees. However, because of the motion to divide the question, only seven of the 10 BoD appointments voted on by the GA were ratified, with the remaining three rejected. While the seven Directors whose appointments were ratified at the GA were supposed to begin their terms on Nov. 15, a J-Board interim decision to extend the terms of the previous 12 Directors indefinitely remains in effect.

The Dec. 31 deadline for the J-Board’s verdict means that deliberations will last more than double the 14-day timeline that the J-Board typically allots for cases. At the hearing, Justice Samuil Stoychev explained that the complex nature of the case has delayed their verdict. All decisions made by the J-Board must be ratified by the BoD—who have already had their last meeting of the semester—a conflict which Stoychev acknowledged at the close of the trial.

“We’re worried the decision will be overturned by the BoD either way if it is rushed,” Stoychev said. “It’s very likely the decision won’t be actionable until next semester anyway.”

After protesting the motion to divide the BoD appointments at the GA, BoD member-at-large Jonathan Glustein submitted a petition to the J-Board which listed SSMU Vice-President (VP) Internal Maya Koparkar—who originally moved the motion—and former SSMU Legislative Council speaker Jad El-Tal—who, as speaker, allowed the motion to be moved and voted on—as respondents. In his petition, Glustein alleged that the division of the ratification votes was unconstitutional, and requested the J-Board nullify their results.

At the hearing, Koparkar, who also sits on the BoD, explained that her motion was an attempt to increase the legitimacy of BoD appointments and alleviate SSMU members’ concerns about their undemocratic nature. Koparkar noted that, in response to these concerns, the SSMU Legislative Council also chose to vote on the Directors’ appointments individually.

“The motion was not targeted to remove specific Board members, and I didn’t think it would cease being more than a procedural matter, like the bloc vote,” Koparkar said. “I didn’t expect three Directors to be rejected. I had no way of knowing. My own spot was in jeopardy too.”

Noah Lew, a current member-at-large on the BoD and one of the appointees rejected by the GA, made a viral Facebook post claiming that the failure of his ratification was the result of anti-semitic sentiment at McGill.

“I was blocked from being able to participate in my student government because I am Jewish, because I have been affiliated with Jewish organizations, and because I believe in the right to Jewish self-determination,” Lew wrote.

Glustein and his counsel Nikolas De Stefano, a McGill Law student from the Legal Information Clinic, argued that section 6.5 of the SSMU Constitution requires appointments to the BoD to be ratified as a bloc. They also argued that sections 6.9 and 6.10, which list the conditions under which a Director can be removed and replaced, do not include their appointment failing to be ratified at a GA. Additionally, De Stefano argued the Constitution does not require the BoD to be an elected body, and that splitting the ratification violated the Constitution.

"By splitting the vote, you mutilate the entire constitutional structure,” De Stefano said. “You turn an appointed body that is supposed to be ratified by bloc into an elected one [….] The people who voted at the GA knew next to nothing, saw no nominating papers, and were not campaigned to. For better or worse, the Constitution does not designate [the BoD] as an elected position.”

Board of Directors delivers updates on Special Committee on Anti-Semitism

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(Leanne Young / The McGill Tribune)

The Students’ Society of McGill (SSMU) Special Committee on Anti-Semitism is in the planning stages of developing its recommendation for the SSMU Board of Directors (BoD) and Legislative Council. On March 14, the committee will advise the Board and Council on how to best confront anti-Semitism on campus and make Jewish-identifying students feel safer.

At the Nov. 26 BoD meeting, Director Jonathan Glustein, a member of the committee, presented the progress made. The committee has held two meetings thus far, on Nov. 14 and 20.

“We agreed on a timeline for the recommendation to be presented to both Council and the Board,” Glustein said. “[The committee] set about five different goals that they wanted to pursue. One of them is a definition on anti-Semitism, another one is […] a review of anti-Semitism historically at McGill.”

SSMU Legislative Council approved the committee at its Nov. 29 meeting, per a motion moved by Glustein. While intended to combat anti-Semitism on campus in general, the committee was created specifically in response to allegations of anti-Semitism at the Fall 2017 General Assembly (GA) on Oct. 23, as well as an open letter. The committee was struck shortly after McGill University announced its own investigation into the events of the GA on Oct. 25.

The committee includes representatives from various Jewish student cultural groups at McGill, including Hillel McGill, Chabad McGill, Independent Jewish Voices McGill, Am McGill, Israel on Campus, and the Jewish Studies Students Association, each of which have been given a single seat.

Although the committee has yet to establish how it will proceed with developing its recommendation, Noa Levin, the committee representative for Am McGill felt that establishing the body was an important first step.

“The General Assembly […] left a lot of people feeling very concerned and confused,” Levin said. “The fact that [the] committee exists [means] there’s already a lot of Jewish students in a room that are now being empowered to affect their experience on campus.”

However, not all groups represented on the committee agree with its methods. Tali Ioselevich, a member of Independent Jewish Voices McGill (IJV), an anti-Zionist Jewish student group, said that in IJV’s view, the events of the GA—namely, Director Noah Lew’s failure to be ratified—were not anti-Semitic.

“The claim that Noah Lew was not ratified because he’s a Jewish student […] is not substantiated,” Ioselevich said. “If you look at the people who voted against Noah Lew at the GA, a lot of Jews voted against him. And [that] was not only [because of] his stance on [Boycott, Divest, and Sanctions against Israel], but also the fact that he was not transparent in his dealings with SSMU, which are totally legitimate reasons to vote someone down.”

IJV was given a seat when the committee was struck at Council, but was only informed after IJV president Hani reached out to Glustein.

“There are actual cases of anti-Semitism on campus, and those should be addressed,” Ioselevich said. “But the committee itself was created directly in response to the [events of] the GA, which were not in and of itself a case of anti-Semitism.”

Ioselevich nonetheless affirmed the importance of IJV’s role on the committee.

“It’s very important for us to have a seat at the table,” Ioselevich said. “Otherwise, […] it seems to me that there would be a homogeneity in the perspectives, and if we’re not there, it might as well be an open and shut case of, yeah, [the events of the GA] were anti-Semitism.”

Despite differences within the committee, Levin expressed optimism about its effectiveness.

“Obviously, people have different political opinions, but we are all committed to making this campus a safe and encouraging place for Jewish people, so I’m confident that we’ll be able to work together,” Levin said.

Chabad McGill, Hillel McGill, and Israel on Campus did not provide comment by press time.

McGill administration conducts investigation into divisive SSMU GA

McGill/News/SSMU by
(Kendall McGowan / The McGill Tribune)

On Oct. 25, McGill University announced the launch of an investigation into whether anti-Semitism was present at the Students’ Society of McGill University (SSMU) Fall General Assembly (GA). The announcement, sent via email to students and staff, was a response to allegations of religious prejudice at the GA when three of 10 members of the SSMU Board of Directors (BoD) were not ratified, one of whom—Noah Lew—was Jewish.   

Former McGill professor of Education and ombudsperson Spencer Boudreau is the lead investigator looking into the allegations. Since the beginning of November, he has interviewed all of the SSMU executives and other student representatives present at the Fall GA.

In an interview with The McGill Tribune, SSMU VP External Connor Spencer explained her initial concerns that the inquiry lacked authenticity and integrity.

“A conversation that we were having was [that] there’s a direct conflict of interest for one institution to be investigating another institution,” Spencer said. “It’s very weird for McGill to be investigating SSMU, especially [given] last year, when [the administration threatened] to cut our funding around this issue. There was an initial pessimism as to what the point of the investigation was, and whether or not there was going to be bias in the investigation because of how the administration handled [the Sadikov investigation] last year.”

However, as the inquiry has progressed, Spencer has found her concerns to be somewhat abated.

“Everyone was wary when McGill launched the investigation as to its intent and scope […] but I think the folks that have spoken to [Boudreau] are feeling a little more reassured,” Spencer said. “It seems like he is legitimately trying to figure out whether the claims of anti-Semitism are true.”

The Oct. 25 email also announced the creation of the Principal’s Task Force for Respect and Inclusion in Campus Life. The Task Force will operate independently of the investigation, broadly examining freedom of expression, respect, and inclusivity on campus, and make recommendations for university improvements in these realms in a final report on April 27, 2018.

Dean of Science R. Bruce Lennox and Associate Professor of Law Nandini Ramanujam, co-chairs of the Principal’s Task Force on Respect and Inclusion in Campus Life, spoke at a press conference on Nov. 21 about preparations to launch the Force’s operations in the Winter term. The Task Force, which will include both graduate and undergraduate students, will attempt to evaluate the state of respectful debate on campus by conducting campus-wide surveys of students, faculty, and campus organizations. Based on the surveys’ results, the Task Force then intends to delegate specific working groups, host a town hall meeting, and draft a list of concrete recommendations for the university.

“The overlap between respect and inclusion is respectful debate, respectful discussion, and I think the Venn diagram of those two entities is where we're going to operate,” Lennox said. "How does one apply the concepts of freedom of expression in an academic environment?”

Lennox clarified that, although the Task Force was announced alongside the investigation, this timing was coincidental, with the Task Force not exclusively concerned with anti-Semitism or particular groups or events.

“There was a coincident announcement of an investigation into [the Fall GA], and there was an announcement that a task force would be struck, whose definition was not specific at that time,” Lennox said. “But the task force did not arise from that event, it’s been an ongoing discussion [….] We will assure you that this isn’t about an incident or a crisis, it’s about who we are as an institution.”

Ramanujam also sees the Task Force as an effort to address McGill’s long-standing interests in inclusivity. According to Ramanujam, it is the product of an ongoing conversation among faculty members that dates back generations.

“I see our work not as reactive but proactive,” Ramanujam said. “We are all a part of the collective university space, the Faculty of Law has been talking a great deal for a long time about safe spaces, inclusive spaces, respectful spaces, and […] so I see this [Task Force] as something that is neither the beginning or the end of this process.”

With the goal to alleviate any concerns over inclusivity on campus, Lennox is confident that McGill suffers from no extraordinary challenges in cultivating a culture of inclusion and respect compared to other universities. She hopes that the University can take a leadership role in providing space for safe discussions.

“[University] is where our society expects people to be able to express their point of view, to debate it, and to listen, so that as a construct has incredible value,” Lennox said. “We have a tremendous leadership responsibility, and I think McGill in particular, because of who McGill is, with diversity in our student population, our staff, our faculty, [is] in a sweet spot for dealing with this challenge.”

 

PGSS shows low voter turnout in DPS existence referendum

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(Calvin Trottier-Chi / The McGill Tribune)

On Nov. 17, Elections SSMU, the body that oversees SSMU voting procedures, announced the Daily Publication Society’s (DPS) successful existence referendum results, which showed an irregularly low voter turnout from Post-Graduate Students’ Society (PGSS) members. The successful vote ensured that the DPS, which publishes both Le Délit and The McGill Daily, will continue to collect non-opt outable student fees to operate for the next five years. But according to PGSS Financial Affairs Officer Matthew Satterthwaite, 1000 graduate students’ names were missing from the list of students that Elections SSMU emailed the referendum poll to. These students were thus not informed of the upcoming to vote.

“I do not believe this mistake [of not including PGSS members] was intentional, as the DPS did not know how to properly administer a referendum,” Satterthwaite said. “Groups seeking an official PGSS referendum must go through the PGSS Council. The PGSS effectively had no idea this referendum was happening until the ballot came out.”

Previous PGSS referenda have maintained a voter turnout rate of 14 per cent or higher. However, according to the Elections SSMU email on Nov. 17 announcing the DPS referendum results, 725 out of the 7,636 graduate students voted, a turnout rate of nine per cent. Satterthwaite noted that the percentage of graduate students who voted on the DPS referendum is even lower because not all members of PGSS are eligible to vote on DPS affairs.

“If you look at the voter breakdown in the email that was sent, it says there are about 7,600 registered PGSS [members], but we’re actually closer to 8,600 members,” Satterthwaite said. “The membership of the PGSS is not exactly the membership of the DPS.”

Satterthwaite believes that PGSS voters were also unaware about the upcoming referendum because the DPS did not present at the PGSS Legislative Council. However, the society was under no obligation to present at Council, since its referendum was not under PGSS.

“[The executives] had no idea that graduate students would be voting for [the DPS existence referendum], so most other graduate students wouldn’t have known,” Satterthwaite said. “Normally, [referenda] are brought up at our Council, so that the [Post-Graduate Student Associations] PGSAs can transmit the information beforehand. The PGSS [executives] and our Council were not informed about [the referendum], and so that whole line of communication was cut.”

The low voter turnout followed Elections SSMU’s choice to restart voting after the first day on Nov. 13. During the referendum, the DPS accidentally provided Elections SSMU with an outdated list of PGSS members eligible to vote from the summer, which excluded graduate students who enrolled for the Fall 2017 semester. As a result, Elections SSMU suspended the original ballot and created a new one using an updated list of eligible PGSS voters that the DPS supplied.

SSMU Deputy Elections Officer Isaac Levy, who supervises SSMU electoral officers and administers elections and referenda, first noticed the problem with the email list.

“From what we have observed and heard from some students who contacted us, some of the PGSS members did not receive emails from our Simply Voting email blasts when the mass emails were sent out,” Levy said. “We are currently looking into the matter from our end to figure out why this may be.”

In an email to The McGill Tribune, Marc Cataford, chairperson of the DPS Board of Directors, explained that a number of accidental factors resulted in an incomplete PGSS voter list.

“The error itself is a mix of a total absence of institutional memory on referenda on our end [and] on Elections SSMU’s end, and after talking with someone from PGSS, they didn’t seem to know the specifics of how it really worked either,” Cataford wrote. “In any case, at no point was there foul play and the error was not of bad faith. The second I was notified of the error, I got in communication with PGSS, with Election SSMU, and with people at McGill to […] make sure that the election can be conducted in a fair manner that gives all of our membership a voice.”

 

SSMU Legislative Council discusses committee on governance reform

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(Kendall McGowan / The McGill Tribune)

At its Nov. 16 meeting, the Students’ Society of McGill University (SSMU) Legislative Council passed the Motion for Nominating Committee of the Board of Directors to Undertake the Selection of Future Board Members Anonymously and the Motion to Amend the Standing Rules to ease the deadlines for presenting motions. Faculty Councillor Anthony Koch was nominated to sit on the Special Committee on Anti-Semitism, which will report to Council in Winter 2018.

Ollivier Dyens and Council talk Governance reform

The first major topic of the session was governance reform. Ollivier Dyens, deputy provost (Student Life and Learning), spoke to Council on this matter before the call to order.

Dyens explained that responsibility for student mental health falls not only on the university, but on students, who must work to cultivate a supportive environment for each other. To Dyens, clarifying SSMU’s constitution is essential to reducing conflicts between students. He suggested hiring an external party to lead the charge in reforming SSMU’s governance structure.

“You guys are going through a turbulent period,” Dyens said. “Your own constitution seems to be, at certain moments, unclear [….] As a university, we want to see SSMU survive. We want to see SSMU together, and being a place where things are healthy for students and debate.”

Council later debated the Motion to Call a Special Referendum Period, which proposed an additional referendum later this month to consider a question regarding constitutional reforms. As the mover of the motion, SSMU Vice-President (VP) External Connor Spencer conceded that the question should be moved to the Winter 2018 Referendum, following concerns over voter burnout within SSMU’s membership. In the interim, she called for Council to commit to starting a larger conversation on governance reform in order to prevent similar issues from recurring every year.

“We need to start having a very large and very long conversation about what governance at SSMU is, and what we’re expecting, and where all the holes are,” Spencer said. “I would really like to pitch […] a commitment to start a larger conversation about [SSMU’s governance structure within…] this body, because we’re all the elected representatives from all the different faculties, and we can make sure our students’ voices are heard within that.”

Following the debate, rules were suspended to add a Motion to Investigate a Committee on Governance Reform, which carried. Council decided that executives and councillors would first look into the options available for starting the process of governance reform, and then determine whether creating an internal committee would be the best solution. VP University Affairs Isabelle Oke explained her stance that more research is necessary before a committee is formed.

“Committees as a first step are one option, [but] I don’t think it’s our only option moving forward,” Oke said. “What I’m suggesting is some kind of mandate, for somebody […] to put together all of the options that we can actually take as a council moving forward, and what resources we’re working with as well.”

Motion for selecting future Board of Directors members anonymously passes

Council voted to remove applicants’ names from applications for future Board of Directors (BoD) seats, through every step of the nominating process until the interview stage. The motion passed with 27 votes in favour, with an amendment added to remove other identifying information irrelevant to the applicant’s qualifications for the position.

While discussing this motion, Council members advocated for the additional need to create a broader policy on hiring processes, which it does not have. SSMU is seeking to fill an equitable hiring position to investigate current hiring practices and alter them for accessibility and transparency.

“This [motion] is an interim step to try and deal with all of the cases that come to the Society now until we have the research that will help us have more rigorous and sustainable practices in our Society,” Oke said.

 

Students challenge SSMU Board of Directors’ authority to add GA quorum Referendum

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(Kendall McGowan / The McGill Tribune)

On Nov. 6, Meara Kirwin, U2 Arts, and Gregoire Beaune, U3 Arts, filed a petition with the Students’ Society of McGill University (SSMU) Judicial Board (J-Board) against the Board of Directors’ (BoD) decision to add a question to the Fall 2017 Referendum. The question asks whether students would like to raise the quorum of General Assemblies (GA) to 350 students. The petition states that the question did not undergo the processes required in order to be added to Referendum by SSMU’s Internal Regulations of Elections and Referenda and by its Constitution. The Referendum polling period runs from Nov. 8 until Nov. 10 at 5 p.m..

Referendum questions are added through either a motion passed at a GA, a motion by SSMU Legislative Council, or through the submission of a petition with at least 100 student signatures to the SSMU Chief Electoral Officer (CEO) at least 14 days prior to the Referendum period. A petition to raise the quorum of GAs with 468 student signatures was created by Engineering Senator Tre Mansdoerfer and former Engineering senator Alexander Dow, both U3 Engineering. However, it was not submitted to the CEO before the Oct. 25 deadline for Referendum questions. A motion to raise GA quorum was not presented during the Fall 2017 GA on Oct. 23 or at a Council meeting this semester.

A statement released by the petitioners explained that raising the quorum would make GAs obsolete.

“The constitutional amendment put to referendum […] would have a significant effect on the General Assembly’s ability to consistently meet quorum and conduct business,” the petitioners wrote. “Instead, because proper procedure and deadlines were not followed, most students have been left unaware that this question is coming to referendum in the first place.”

In an unprecedented move, the BoD added the Referendum question through its own motion, the Motion to Bring General Assembly SSMU Constitutional Changes to Referendum, which was passed at the BoD’s Oct. 29 meeting. At the board’s Nov. 5 meeting, SSMU President Muna Tojiboeva explained why the BoD chose this course of action.

“We consulted legal just to see what our obligations were as a corporation under the [Companies Act] in Québec law, and what they said is [that] our [Internal Regulations] are not necessarily representative of what our real legal obligations are,” Tojiboeva said. “In reality, under article 91 of the [Companies Act], it’s only the Board that can approve questions that would go to change the constitution. It’s only the Board and the members that can make a new mandate or put a question to a vote for the membership.”

As a company registered in the province of Québec, SSMU is regulated by the Québec Companies Act, which takes precedence over the SSMU Constitution and Internal Regulations. Article 91 of the Québec Companies Act says that the directors of a company may repeal and make amendments to the by-laws of a company as long as those changes are confirmed at a general meeting of the members called for that express purpose.

“Basically, what our legal counsel said is that [Referendum questions] cannot come unilaterally from the membership as it was done before,” Tojiboeva said.

In an email to The McGill Tribune, Kirwin, one of the petitioners, explained what led her to challenge the BoD’s decision to add the Referendum question.

“We are concerned about the power currently held by the Board of Directors—an unelected body whose power has been increased through constitutional amendments in the past few years,” Kirwin wrote. “This referendum question was brought by the BoD unconstitutionally, and as SSMU members, we must insist that constitutional modes of decision-making are upheld, and that power is not taken from the General Assembly and consolidated at the top of the ladder.”

 

Open letter to SSMU executives denounces Fall 2017 General Assembly

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(Ava Zwolinski / The McGill Tribune)

On Oct. 27, former Student’s Society of McGill University (SSMU) engineering senator Alexander Dow, U3 Engineering, submitted an open letter to the McGill administration in response to the Oct. 23 SSMU General Assembly (GA). The petition, which expresses SSMU members’ dissatisfaction with the GA’s failure to represent the greater student population, received a total of 468 signatures. Tre Mansdoerfer, U3 Engineering, also contributed to writing the letter.

The petition calls for the 100-student quorum currently constitutionally required for SSMU GAs to be raised substantially. Despite the fact that 100 students is less than 0.5 per cent of the undergraduate student population, the GA rarely reaches quorum unless controversial topics are on the agenda. In response to the letter, the SSMU Board of Directors (BoD) voted on Oct. 29 to add a question of raising quorum to 350. Referendum questions are typically approved via motion by the SSMU Legislative Council or through a vote at the GA.  

The first concern that the letter addresses is the allegations of rising anti-Semitism and  disrespect for ideological differences on campus, especially in light of Noah Lew’s failure to be ratified as a member of the BoD. Dow believes polarization within SSMU has caused tension among the student body.

“What we ideally want is [for SSMU] to remain a place where we can respect student opinions,” Dow said. “Universities are where we share and exchange ideas, not cut out ones that we don’t believe.”

According to the second section of the letter, the goal of raising quorum is to prevent any vocal minority from unilaterally controlling and undermining democracy in GA votes in the future. If quorum is not reached, the GA becomes a consultative forum, which cannot pass resolutions. However, the minutes from the forum can be attached to SSMU’s online referenda, which have higher voter turnouts.

In 2012, SSMU amended its constitution so that all resolutions passed at the GA must later be sent to an online vote for ratification. Given that many students are unable to attend GAs, the open letter calls for the Oct. 23 GA motions to be online referenda questions and for the GA to be a consultative forum.

To SSMU Vice-President Student Life Jemark Earle, the nomination of all 10 directors, including those who failed to secure a seat at the BoD, should be included in an online vote.

“To elect directors to SSMU, we need a greater percentage [of students] to weigh in on this matter,” Earle said. “I think that all [nominations] should go to referendum.”

The number of signatures on the petition, which exceeds the number of students who were present at the fall GA, demonstrates many students’ distaste for how important governance decisions are made. Earle says he commends the initiative of the letter and hopes to see the outlined concerns pushed toward resolution.

“I love when discussion happens,” Earle said. “As an executive, I think it’s well within my mandate to […] represent all opinions on campus. I think that the [disapprovals] outlined in the open letter to SSMU executives were all valid [points].”

For Annalise Patzer, U0 Nursing, the open letter holds SSMU accountable for hostility she’s seen on campus.

“Considering [how anti-Semitism] is happening at a level that is supposed to be the student representation for our university, [my Jewish friends] were concerned about how they are supposed to navigate university,” Patzer wrote to The McGill Tribune. “I just think the open letter is calling McGill and SSMU to take responsibility for this negative culture and image and harm they have created on campus.”

A previous version of this article incorrectly stated that the petition called for quorum to be raised to 350. In fact, the petition only calls for the quorum to be raised substantially while the motion to the Board of Directors calls for the quorum to be raised to 350. The Tribune regrets this error.

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