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Heated debate on free tuition dominates general assembly

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(Tristan Surman / The McGill Tribune)

The Students’ Society of McGill University (SSMU) convened for its Winter General Assembly (GA) on March 26. Fewer than 350 students—the minimum requirement to meet quorum—attended the GA, forcing the assembly to become a consultative forum. All motions passed by a consultative forum can be added to the agenda of the following SSMU Legislative Council meeting. Attendees the Motion to Organize the Fight for Free Education and Cancellation of Student Debt, the only motion submitted to the agenda.

SSMU President Muna Tojiboeva attributed low attendance at the GA to the nature of the sole motion presented.

“The GA has been advertised on Facebook and publicized widely,” Tojiboeva said. “I think [lack of attendance has] more to do with the non-controversial nature of the motions, which usually attracts people to the GA.”

The motion was drafted by Socialist Fightback’s McGill chapter and mandates that SSMU support initiatives for free education and student debt cancellation. It calls upon the SSMU Vice-President (VP) External to collaborate with student activists across Canada to mobilize a one-day strike in Fall 2018. Additionally, the motion requested that SSMU establish monthly democratic assemblies to engage students in SSMU’s advocacy campaigns.

This motion is preceded by SSMU’s current policy to promote free education, which passed in 2015. Socialist Fightback member Natalia Garcia believes that organizing a strike is the next step in the fight for free education.

“The best way to fight for our rights is mass action,” Garcia said. “It took the 2012 mass strike for the government to cancel the tuition hikes. That’s what the government responds to, not letters, not votes. They respond to pressure. We don’t believe that [the government] will do anything by themselves if it’s not coming from [students].”

During the debate period, SSMU VP External Connor Spencer expressed her support for the motion, predicting that free tuition is potentially on the horizon for Canadian universities.

“The NDP just passed, at their congress a month ago, a motion to endorse free tuition,” Spencer said. “This is something that’s on the agenda for the upcoming provincial election, because students have mobilized. This motion is incredibly timely, and I want to lend my full support.”

Socialist Fightback member Vishwaa Ramakrishnan explained that this motion is only one step in the right direction toward free education.

“The motion is Canadian-centric but it is designed to expand beyond the confines of [Canada],” Ramakrishnan said. “This is a global issue. It’s time we start uniting as students across the country, across the world, for free education. I think only through solidarity, with this resolution as a first step in that greater and broader plan for free education, that we can achieve that.”

(Tristan Surman / The McGill Tribune)

Not all students were in favour of the motion, however. Andrew Figueiredo, U2 Arts, stated during the debate period that he thinks free tuition is too ambitious a goal for a student strike.

“It’s fine and dandy to talk about free tuition, but it’s a bit of a pipe dream at this point,” Figueiredo said. “It would be nice to implement in the long run, but this motion is not the way to get there. A one-day student strike would not only be disruptive to campus life, it would frankly not work.”

Figueiredo further criticized the motion for a lack of fiscal policy details and expressed concern about the long-term repercussions of implementing free tuition.

“We could essentially tank the Canadian economy with this kind of idea, if it goes far enough,” Figueiredo said. “So let’s take a step back and think about these things, not go on strike, have pertinent discussions on campus, take some economics classes, and consult some experts before going about this.”

A majority of the consultative forum voted in favour of the motion. It was then discussed at SSMU Legislative Council on March 29, where an amended version passed calling for SSMU to work toward the implementation of monthly democratic assemblies in Fall 2018.


SSMU Legislative Council votes in favour of student strike for free education

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(Catherine Morrison / The McGill Tribune)


At its meeting on March 29, the Students’ Society of McGill University (SSMU) Legislative Council passed the Motion to Organize the Fight for Free Education and the Cancellation of Student Debt. Council also passed the Motion Regarding the Adoption of a Sustainability Policy and the Motion to Amend the Internal Regulations to Improve Accessibility, Impartiality, and Stability of the Board of Directors (BoD)


Council votes to support free tuition and debt cancellation

McGill’s Chapter of Socialist Fightback (SF)—a group advocating for a societal transition to socialismhas campaigned to pass the motion at both the General Assembly (GA) and at Council since March 16. Vishwaa Ramakrishnan, U0 Arts, a member of SF, presented the motion, which councillors discussed in an extensive question period.

SSMU Vice-President (VP) Connor Spencer explained that both the Quebec Student Union (QSU) and the Association for the Voice of Education in Quebec (AVEQ) would have major roles in lobbying the provincial government for the right of students in Quebec to strike. Councillors raised concerns about the legality of a student strike in Quebec after the passing of Bill 78, which was passed following the student strikes in 2012 and prohibits protests on school grounds.

“The best avenues for us to address this is through [QSU] and AVEQ,” Spencer said. “So both of them at their congresses were talking about what specific needs their members want them to bring to the provincial governments to do with the legal rights for students to strike.”

After the question period, Medicine Representative Andre Lametti proposed an amendment to the motion, replacing the call for SSMU to immediately establish monthly democratic assemblies with a call for SSMU to “work towards” establishing monthly democratic assemblies.

“The modalities have not been established yet and this motion taking effect, right now, would mean we would have to start having monthly democratic assemblies, at this present time, which I suppose is what the movers want, but we still have to decide how we are going to do it,” Lametti said.

Following the introduction of this amendment, councillors engaged in heated debate over the accountability and integrity of next year’s SSMU Executive.

“‘Work towards’ has been what has been put in the prior SSMU resolutions for the last 2 years,” Ramakrishnan said. “In those resolutions, there is no concrete action.”

While councillors quickly came to the defence of next year’s SSMU Executive, SSMU VP University Affairs (UA) Isabelle Oke acknowledged students’ general mistrust of SSMU and expressed her support for the inclusion of a firm timeline in the motion, rather than mandating SSMU to take action in an indefinite period of time.

“The issue at hand isn’t necessarily one of questioning the integrity of the [SSMU Executive], but […] it seems like there is little trust in SSMU as an institution,” Oke said. “If we’re being asked to stick to this higher standard, I would speak against the amendment just in terms of taking the small steps [toward increased accountability] that are required to have that relationship with a membership where we can make these changes and they’re taken for what they are.”

Ultimately, the amendment passed with the addition of a line stipulating that the monthly democratic assemblies must take place by Fall 2018. The motion also passed, with 13 in favour, nine opposed, and two abstentions.


Council votes to revamp the BoD

Council passed the Motion to Amend the Internal Regulations to Improve Accessibility, Impartiality, and Stability of the Board of Directors. The motion stipulates that the chair of the BoD must be a non-voting member who will not be counted toward the quorum at BoD meetings. It also requires the BoD to include two alumni representatives in an advisory capacity.

SSMU President-Elect and current Engineering Senator Tre Mansdoerfer presented this motion following concerns raised about lack of transparency from this year’s BoD due to meetings being scheduled on Sunday evenings in the SSMU office, when both the University Centre and the Brown Building require keycard access to enter. To address this, one the motion’s amendments specifies that the agenda for all BoD meetings must be made publicly available at least 48 hours in advance.


Support for SSMU VP External-Elect Marina Cupido remains divisive

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(Tristan Surman / The McGill Tribune)

In the 2018-2019 Students’ Society of McGill University (SSMU) executive election, Vice-President (VP) External-Elect Marina Cupido received 1,645 “No” votes—a substantially higher number than the candidates for other positions received.  Her candidacy was opposed by the group McGill Students for an Inclusive SSMU, which condemned Cupido for expressing solidarity with former arts representative Igor Sadikov and allegedly disregarding President Muna Tojiboeva’s mistreatment at SSMU.

Last February, while in office, Sadikov sparked outrage with his controversial tweet “punch a zionist today.” He was further criticized when he claimed at a Legislative Council meeting that Jewish people do not constitute a homogeneous ethnic group. While many accused Sadikov of escalating anti-Semitic sentiments, Cupido publicly defended him. In an interview with The McGill Tribune, Cupido elaborated on her reasons for supporting Sadikov.

“I understand Zionism as a form of settler colonialism,” Cupido said. “It was my understanding that [Sadikov] was expressing opposition to Zionism as a political movement, and the violence that it enacts [….] Based on my discussions with Jewish people, I believe that his statement about homogeneity was true.”

Though Cupido acknowledged the lack of nuance in Sadikov’s statements, her stance was met with backlash during her campaign. As a Jewish person, David Naftulin, U1 Arts, found Cupido’s view on Zionism and Judaism particularly troubling.

“Judaism and Zionism are not the same thing necessarily, but they are […] very important to most people of Jewish identity,” Naftulin said. “It is not about the Zionism. It is about the veiled targeting of Jewish students.”

Regarding the claim that Jews do not make up a single peoplehood, Naftulin criticized Cupido for not understanding Jewish identity.

“Judaism is inherently not evangelist,” Naftulin said. “Jews do not make an attempt to convert others [….] There are individuals who are not members of the Jewish ethnic group. However, […] Jewish people are a peoplehood which results from a single ethnic group.”

However, Hani Abramson, U2 Arts and Jewish member of Cupido’s campaign team, argued in favour of Cupido’s understanding of Judaism.

“There are Jews by choice who are just as Jewish as people who were born Jewish,” Abramson said. “I think that referring to the Jewish people as a homogeneous ethnic group […] lends itself to associations with racial hygiene and eugenic theory that has been mobilized against Jews by anti-Semites.”

Inclusive SSMU also claimed that Cupido was dismissive of gendered violence that Tojiboeva experienced during her tenure. This accusation largely stems from an article published in the Bull and Bear on Oct. 20 in which Tojiboeva wrote about opposition within the SSMU executive, of which six of the seven original members were women. In a statement to The McGill Tribune, Inclusive SSMU warned the public to be informed.

[Cupido’s] lies don’t change the fact that she continues to deny the lived experiences of Muna Tojiboeva,” Inclusive SSMU, whose members chose to remain anonymous, wrote. “[Cupido] has directly attacked survivors of gendered violence and encouraged violence against students.

However, throughout her tenure, Tojiboeva never highlighted gendered violence, with no mention of it in her article, in her response to declarations of no confidence, in the suspension of VP Finance Arisha Khan, or in the divisive debates of the Fall 2017 General Assembly. Her critics did not mention gendered violence either. In her response to Inclusive SSMU’s allegations, Cupido emphasized that Tojiboeva never used the term “gendered violence” to describe her experiences within SSMU.

“What the No campaign is doing is imposing the language of gendered violence on one woman to slander another woman who is a survivor of gendered violence,” Cupido said. “It is so hard to even articulate how harmful and disingenuous the campaign is.”

Despite the close election results, Cupido affirmed that she has received a democratic mandate from SSMU members to properly represent all interests on campus. Further, some “No” voters indicated their willingness to collaborate with Cupido.

“Truthfully, my ‘No’ is not necessarily to defeat her, but to make her understand that her rhetoric has harmed students,” Naftulin said. “[Now] she has an opportunity to internalize those concerns […and] to be a constructive, understanding voice for all students.”

SSMU adopts revoked EU working definition of anti-Semitism

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The Students’ Society of McGill University (SSMU) has been plagued by allegations of anti-Semitism since its General Assembly (GA) in Fall 2017, where students failed to ratify a Jewish student to the Board of Directors (BoD) allegedly based in part on his pro-Israel affiliations. In response to these accusations, SSMU Legislative Council approved a motion at its March 15 meeting to implement a series of recommendations designed to make the GA a more inclusive space for Jewish students.

Among these recommendations was the adoption of a new definition of the term ‘anti-Semitism’ to address instances of prejudice against Jewish students within SSMU institutions. Other suggestions included education for McGill students and mandatory training for SSMU executives on anti-Semitism.

The recommendations came from the SSMU Anti-Semitism Committee, a BoD committee commissioned to address instances of anti-Semitism and propose preventative mechanisms within the McGill community. The committee includes representatives from the Jewish Studies Students’ Association, Chabad at McGill, Israel on Campus, Am McGill, Hillel McGill, Independent Jewish Voices, a SSMU Director, and a SSMU Councillor.

Of their recommendations, one of the most contentious was the adoption of a definition of anti-Semitism in accordance with the European Union (EU) Fundamental Rights Agency (FRA) definition.

Anti-Semitism is a certain perception of Jews, which may be expressed as hatred toward Jews,” the FRA definition reads. “Rhetorical and physical manifestations of anti-Semitism are directed toward Jewish or non-Jewish individuals and/or their property, toward Jewish community institutions and religious facilities. In addition, such manifestations could also target the state of Israel, conceived as a Jewish collectivity.”

Though the definition was widely accepted and reaffirmed by both the Ottawa Protocol and the London Declaration on Combating Antisemitism, neither the FRA nor the EU ever officially adopted it. In 2013 the FRA website dropped the working paper which included the “working definition of anti-Semitism” following controversy regarding a clause which some claimed silenced criticism of Israel. SSMU’s definition includes this clause.

“Examples of the ways in which anti-Semitism manifests itself with regard to the State of Israel taking into account the overall context could include […denying] Jewish people their right to self-determination, defined by the UN Charter as ‘the right to freely determine their political status and freely pursue their economic, social and cultural development,” the clause reads.

This clause drew the most controversy at Council on March 15. Though Palestinians’ right to self-determination was addressed in a footnote on the motion, those who support groups that advocate for human rights in Palestine—such as Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions (BDS) and Solidarity for Palestinian Human Rights (SPHR)—raised concerns that this footnote was not included as a clause.

“I think there’s a lot of issues as to whether [criticism of the State of Israel and anti-Semitism] can be separated,” Social Work Students’ Association representative Matthew Savage said in an interview with The McGill Tribune. “I would have prefered to see the full UN definition instead of half of it in the clause and the rest in the footnote just because without that […] we can’t have an actual conversation about what it means to peacefully protest government abuses of people in their land.”

Independent Jewish Voices (IJV) McGill asserted the ways in which discussion surrounding Israel-Palestine is integral to ensuring that no voices are left out.

“IJV McGill wholeheartedly opposes these assertions,” IJV wrote in a statement published to their Facebook page. “Most of the Jews, Palestinians and others who support BDS and/or identify as anti or non-Zionist, act not out of anti-Semitism, but out of an urge to seek justice for the oppressed. Calling these political positions anti-Semitic limits the scope of Jewish identity, as well as the discourse surrounding Israel-Palestine, marginalizing Jews and non-Jews alike who support peace in the region.”

The Anti-Semitism Committee emphasized that the definition was created to reflect the diversity of voices within the Jewish community.

“In regards to those involved in BDS activism, it is important to note that a Jewish pro-BDS activist sat on the committee,” the Anti-Semitism Committee wrote in a statement to the Tribune. “We believe it is imperative that the diverse cross-section of Jewish students represented on this committee are allowed to mobilize their lived experiences to define anti-Semitism. The product of this committee does not define BDS activism as anti-Semitic. Rather, the definition provides ways in which activism regarding Israel can veer into anti-Semitism, and cautions against it.”

Tre Mansdoerfer wins SSMU Presidency by 69 vote margin

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(Audrey Carleton / The McGill Tribune)

U2 Engineering student Tre Mansdoerfer was elected Students’ Society McGill University Presidenct on March 21 with 50.7 per cent of the vote. Mansdoerfer received only 69 more votes than his competitor, U2 Arts student Corinne Bulger, who garnered 49.3 per cent of votes. 32.8 per cent of the undergraduate student body voted in this year’s election, an 11 percentage point increase from last year’s voter turnout of 21.8 per cent.

Vice-President (VP) Internal Matthew McLaughlin, VP Finance Jun Wang, VP External Marina Cupido, VP University Affairs Jacob Shapiro, and VP Student Life Sophia Esterle will join Mansdoerfer on the executive team.

Mansdoerfer ran on a platform focused on accountability and advocacy. His campaign promises included to improve mental health services, build relationships with faculty executives, and lobby the university for a Fall reading week. In the immediate future, he plans to focus on SSMU’s more pressing needs.

“I’m literally shaking and beyond excited to be the next SSMU president,” Mansdoerfer said. “I’m looking forward to getting to work right away […] I’m going to be focusing on making the GA online and being a part of facilitating the building closure. But for the next month and a half, I want to meet all faculty executives and create those relationships for the year.”

In a statement to The McGill Tribune, Bulger expressed gratitude for the experience she gained during her campaign.

“I think that this year’s campaign season showed support, and had a positive nature to it that I think will be reflective of the years to come,” Bulger said. “A big congratulations to Tre, Marina, Jacob, Sophia, Matthew, and Jun. I wish you all the love and luck! This opportunity gave me the chance to meet new people, share ideas, and really engage with students on our campus—which at the end of the day matters most to me, and I will continue to do during my time here at McGill.”

Mansdoerfer is the only executive who ran opposed. Despite a vocal “no” campaign against her, Cupido won the election for VP External with 62.9 per cent of students voting in favour and 37.1 per cent against.

I’m overwhelmed with gratitude for everyone who supported me through this process,” Cupido said. “I truly couldn’t have gotten through the past couple weeks without my campaign team and my friends, particularly given the toxic nature of some of the opposition to my candidacy.”

Coming into the position, Cupido plans to put more resources into the Indigenous Affairs portfolio, partner with a provincial student federation, and work with other Quebec universities to lobby against unpaid internships.

“I’m looking forward to the transition process a lot,” Cupido said. “I need to get up to speed with some of the organizing going on on campus, particularly around the indigenous affairs portfolio. I’m coming to terms with the fact that I didn’t give nearly enough space in my platform to the work indigenous student leaders are doing as we speak. Moving into the transition, I have to do a lot of listening and de-centreing of my own voice”

Currently a first-year student, McLaughlin will come into the position of VP Internal as the youngest member of the SSMU executive. Going forward, he plans to meet with representatives from faculties and the First Year Council (FYC) to ensure a smooth transition into his role.

I’ll be hitting the ground running,” McLaughlin said. “I’ve already met with a number of executives from faculty student societies, and I’ll be meeting with many many more over the coming weeks [….] I’m excited to form a group to explore the best way to create the SSMU centralized calendar. I’ll also be focusing on working with the current FYC executives to prepare for a smooth transition to next year.”

Shapiro’s victory follows a candidacy based on ensuring continuity between SSMU executives each year and making SSMU more engaging for the average student. Noting his lack a competitor, he emphasized the importance of remaining open to students’ thoughts and concerns going forward.

Despite the positive results of this campaign, at the end of the day, I received the votes of a mere 17 per cent of the student population, and this, crucially, is without having had a challenger,” Shapiro said. “I must continue to seek out and engage the feedback and opinions of others if I am to be successful and if I am to play a positive role in taking a step to build a stronger student union.”


Vote breakdown:
President Tre Mansdoerfer: 50.7 per cent

VP University Affairs Jacob Shapiro: Yes, 90.5 per cent

VP External Marina Cupido: Yes, 62.9 per cent

VP Internal Matthew McLaughlin: Yes, 87.3 per cent

VP Finance Jun Wang: Yes, 82.6 per cent

VP Student Life Sophia Esterle: Yes, 88.4 per cent

SSMU Council accepts recommendations from committee on anti-Semitism

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(Catherine Morrison / The McGill Tribune)

At its March 15 meeting, the Students’ Society of McGill University (SSMU) Legislative Council passed the Motion Regarding the Policy for the Implementation of a Fall Reading Break, renewing SSMU’s mandate to lobby for the institution of a Fall break at McGill. Council also passed the Motion Regarding the Joint Board of Directors and Legislative Council Special Committee on Anti-Semitism, enacting the committee’s various recommendations to combat anti-Semitism on campus. Senior Director, Planning and Resources Diane Koen and Trenholme Dean of Libraries C. Colleen Cook also presented more information about the Fiat Lux library project.


McGill librarians discuss Fiat Lux project

The Fiat Lux library construction proposal, currently in its planning phase, proposes renovations to the Redpath and McLennan Libraries to fit the modern needs and desires of McGill students. The project leaders for the creation of a “library of the mid-21st century” informed Council of the project’s current status and on soliciting feedback from the student population.

“This project really is about students and your needs,” Cook said. “So we want to hear from you […and] get some of your input.”

Cook and Koen spoke about planned improvements to the library such as better lighting and air conditioning, greater selection and flexibility for individual and group study spaces, and additional seating.

“The whole thing, in the best of all possible worlds, [would be finished] within five to six [years],” Cook said.


Fall Reading Break motion goes to referendum

The motion resolved to continue the Society’s push for implementing a Fall break. It would renew SSMU’s stance on the issue and mandates the Vice-President (VP) External, VP University Affairs (UA), and members of the Senate Caucus to lobby the provincial government, administration, and Senate to establish a Fall Reading Week at McGill.

“[This composition] implements a three-pronged approach,” Bryan Buraga, the incoming Arts and Science senator and a representative from the motion’s “yes” campaign, said. “[As a result,] this would apply the maximum amount of pressure in order for this to be implemented.”

After acknowledging the need for special considerations for certain faculties such as Engineering—whose professors must lecture for a certain number of hours per semester as mandated by the Ordre des ingénieurs du Québec—and Medicine, which doesn’t have two-semester academic years, Council passed the motion to be voted on as a referendum question during the Winter 2018 voting period.


Recommendations from the Special Committee on Anti-Semitism passes

After a presentation from a member of the committee, Council deliberated a motion to enact each of its recommendations. These include renewing the committee’s mandate for the 2018-2019 academic year, adopting a working definition of anti-Semitism, and having new SSMU executives undergo a mandatory training session on anti-Semitism. The committee also recommended additional mandates for the VP UA, including hiring a special researcher on anti-Semitism on campus, organizing open workshops to educating students on relevant issues, and working with the McGill administration to implement their recommendations.

The proposed definition of anti-Semitism, one of the motion’s two clauses that passed through the committee without consensus but was addressed by a footnote within the motion, drew the most attention from Council. The motion proposes adopting the European Union’s (EU) Fundamental Rights Agency’s (FRA) working definition of anti-Semitism, though no such definition currently exists. In 2013, the FRA controversially removed an unofficial working paper from its website that included a “working definition of anti-Semitism” which many had taken to be the EU’s official working definition of anti-Semitism.

“Antisemitism is a certain perception of Jews, which may be expressed as hatred toward Jews,” the definition read. “Rhetorical and physical manifestations of antisemitism are directed toward Jewish or non-Jewish individuals and/or their property, toward Jewish community institutions and religious facilities.”

One councillor raised concerns about the definition potentially being too broad.

“As […] someone that is pro-[Boycott Divestment Sanctions] BDS, I’m a little worried that I will automatically be labelled as anti-Semite under this definition, without it being fully explained in the section,” Social Work representative Matthew Savage said.

Shira Mattuck, a committee member from Chabad McGill, reasoned that considering the committee’s composition and the included footnote, the proposal should not be modified.

“It’s really important to understand that these clauses were voted on by a majority of Jewish groups on campus,” Mattuck said. “It’s really important that we hear the lived experiences of Jewish students on campus and let Jewish students define anti-Semitism, and I think that [those concerns] are valid, but they are addressed in the footnote.”

After adding a friendly amendment for the committee to revisit its terms of composition during the Fall 2018 semester, Council passed the motion.

SSMU candidates wrestle with eroded student trust, building closure at debate

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(Audrey Carleton / The McGill Tribune)

The seven candidates for positions in the 2018-2019 Students’ Society of McGill University (SSMU) Executive Committee convened on March 13 for a debate hosted by Elections SSMU. Candidates for each of SSMU’s six executive portfolios presented their platforms, fielded student and press questions, and gave closing statements. Although the event was meant to be a structured debate between opposing candidates for the same positions, all five Vice President (VP) portfolios are running uncontested. The polling period begins March 19 and closes March 21 at 3 p.m., after which results will be announced.

VP Finance – Jun Wang

SSMU’s VP Finance manages the Society’s human resources and finances, which involves preparing a budget report and signing off on SSMU expenses.

Jun Wang, U2 Management and the sole candidate for the position, is running on a platform promising to restructure SSMU’s finances to promote the efficient allocation of funding, make funding more accessible, and improve transparency in the office.

“I believe [being a good] VP Finance is to understand student groups and to tackle the certain costs and inefficiencies in the system [in order] to streamline [and] meet student needs,” Wang said in his opening statement.

Wang aims to make the Executive Committee more transparent by introducing performance evaluations for each position. Wang also plans to share the VP Finance’s agenda in weekly memos posted on SSMU’s Accountability webpage.

“The weekly memos [would be] on simple activities like, ‘what did you do this week, who did you meet with, is there any projected funds that you talked about?’” Wang said. “Having this transparency on what people actually do posted on SSMU website […] will really show the student body what [SSMU is] actually using their funds for.”

VP Student Life – Sophia Esterle

The VP Student Life acts a liaison between SSMU and clubs, services, and independent student groups, in addition to working closely with SSMU’s mental health services and McGill’s Student Services.

Sophia Esterle, U2 Arts, who is running for the office uncontested, heavily underscored the role of the VP Student Life in promoting and collaborating with McGill’s mental health services in her platform.

“We need to be able to touch individual students who are suffering with mental health [ailments] directly, and so that is why […I would like to] have some counsellors that would be available to go to residences […or] at least have sharing sessions where students can talk about their mental health problems in residence,” Esterle said in her closing statement. “That would help destigmatize mental health [problems] because people would realize that the students around them are suffering too.”

Esterle also proposed creating a search engine on the SSMU website to help students find SSMU clubs and student groups that match their interests.

VP External – Marina Cupido

The VP External manages relations between SSMU and various non-McGill actors including the municipal and provincial governments, community organizations, and provincial student federations. The office is also responsible for organizing and mobilizing students for a variety of political causes.

At the debate, Marina Cupido, U4 Arts, whose bid for VP External is unopposed, explained her perspective on SSMU as a political institution.

“The reason I am running for this position is because, after spending four years reporting on SSMU  and student life at McGill[for The McGill Daily] […] I both developed a deep appreciation for what SSMU can and does offer to students and a deep frustration with all the ways in which […] SSMU is often inefficient and isolated,” Cupido said in her opening statement.

Cupido’s primary objective is to promote accessibility at many levels at McGill, with particular regard for Francophone students, Indigenous students, and students who require financial assistance. She also plans to devote resources to improving relations between long-term residents of the Milton-Parc community and McGill students, many of whom are temporary renters in the neighborhood.

“I would like to organize […] an event at which members of the community and McGill students could come together and […] become aware of all of the work that has been done, is being done, and can be done to facilitate relations between those communities,” Cupido said.

VP Internal – Matthew McLaughlin

SSMU’s VP Internal is in charge of communication between the Executive Committee and SSMU members as well as managing planning for large-scale events including Frosh, SSMU and MUS’ Halloween Party, and various other events including Faculty Olympics.

Matthew McLaughlin, U0 Management, who is running unchallenged, described his plans to improve a number of the committees within the VP Internal portfolio, including increasing training for members of the Students’ Society Programming Network and reforming First Year Council.

McLaughlin also expressed his commitment to finding alternative spaces for SSMU events in light of the impending closure of the University Centre.

“I think […we] can collaborate more between faculties,” Mclaughlin said. “We can use [the closure] as a chance to use the spaces in different faculties by fostering those relationships and leveraging them [….] Also, engaging with the Montreal community more broadly [is important]. This is a chance […] to connect with them as SSMU and use [Montreal] spaces to plan events as well.”

VP University Affairs – Jacob Shapiro

The VP University Affairs acts as a representative for undergraduate students in the McGill Senate and many of its committees, and is consulted by the administration regarding matters of academic policy and equity complaints.

Jacob Shapiro, U3 Arts, who also lacked a competitor, explained that his passion for teaching and learning motivated him to run for the office of VP University Affairs.

“Most people that know me know that I am animated and have a passion for education,” Shapiro said. “I think any position at SSMU […] is really about thinking about […] how [SSMU can] reduce the barriers so that we can have fairer, kinder, and more accessible education. That prompted me to run.”

Shapiro plans to maintain efforts by the current VP University Affairs Isabelle Oke to refocus the office’s mandate through constitutional reform.

“We need to have a system that is designed to represent students and that reminds itself it’s a student union,” Shapiro said. “I think the idea of having town halls and forums where people can engage with each other is on point.”

Although advocating for Open Educational Resources at McGill will be his top priority, he clarified that he hopes that reforms to the office’s mandate will allow him to advocate for a plurality of initiatives.

President – Corrine Bulger and Tre Mansdoerfer

SSMU’s President is the chief officer of the Society, a member of the student Senate Caucus, and the chair of both the Board of Directors (BoD) and the Executive Committee. The President also represents students at a number of administrative bodies, including McGill’s Board of Governors (BoG) and two committees of Senate.

Corrine Bulger, U2 Arts, is running on a platform of increasing the number of SSMU community spaces, following through with incumbents’ projects—including creating a SSMU sexual violence policy and improving relations with the Milton-Parc community—and making SSMU governance more accessible by incorporating multimedia.

Tre Mansdoerfer, U2 Engineering, wishes to develop closer relationships with faculty associations and increase their participation and representation in Senate, re-establish students’ trust in SSMU’s governance, and advocate for initiatives including a Fall reading week, improvements in mental health services, and redressing McGill’s Sexual Violence Policy.

Both Bulger and Mansdoerfer agreed that, as chair of the BoD, the President should be stripped of the power to vote and that the BoD’s membership should be broadened. However, while Mansdoerfer believes that the BoD should add an alumni director, Bulger contended that SSMU should add a non-McGill director with expertise in governance.

“We are a bunch of 20 year olds at the end of the day,” Bulger said. “We do not have the extensive experience [of] someone who has been in law, or who has been in banking as an accountant for years.”

Mansdoerfer noted that his experience serving in a variety of SSMU offices distinguishes him from Bulger.

“I think I’ve seen [SSMU] a bit more and I have a bit longer history [with] it,” Mansdoerfer said. “I [also] think I meet outside my faculty a lot more, and engage with a lot of different student groups on campus. I have strong relationships in most of the faculties through my work as student Senator and Council member.”

Report on anti-Semitism discussed at Board of Governors meeting

McGill/News/SSMU by
(Ava Zwolinski / The McGill Tribune)

The McGill Board of Governors (BoG) convened on Feb. 15 to discuss the University’s report on allegations of anti-Semitism, the new Vision 2020 Climate and Sustainability Action Plan, the new Committee to Advise on Matters of Social Responsibility (CAMSR) terms of reference, and budget affairs. Two hours of the BoG’s three-hour meeting were made open to the McGill community and press. Other topics discussed during the open community session included the national and international rankings of McGill’s schools and faculties and concerns regarding McGill’s rate of tenure and tenure-track hiring.


BoG affirms stance on report on anti-Semitism

Most of the BoG’s conversation regarding former ombudsperson Spencer Boudreau’s report on allegations of anti-Semitism at the Student Society of McGill University’s (SSMU) Fall General Assembly occured during the board’s private session. However, during the community session, members of the BoG, including Principal Suzanne Fortier, reaffirmed their support for Boudreau’s conclusion that allegations of anti-Semitism were unfounded but understandable given the divisiveness of campus discourse on the Israel-Palestine conflict.

Derek Nystrom, associate professor of Cultural Studies and BoG member, said the events which preceded the investigation contributed to broader concerns about political discourse on campus.

“It is important to treat these allegations [of anti-Semitism] seriously,” Nystrom said. “I also believe that genuine political differences should be vented as freely as possible.”


Presentation on Vision 2020

François Miller, manager of the McGill Office of Sustainability, delivered a report on the Vision 2020 Climate and Sustainability Action Plan announced on Nov. 28, 2017. Under Vision 2020, McGill plans to achieve carbon neutrality by 2040 and earn a Platinum Sustainability Tracking, Assessment & Rating System Rating by 2030.

In his presentation, Miller outlined concrete steps McGill intends to take to reduce its carbon footprint in the coming decades. Among the most important of these is improving sustainability-related Key Performance Indicator (KPI) metrics and decreasing greenhouse gas emissions.

“In order to have increased accountability and transparency, we will report to the Board of Governors our sustainability ratings every three to four years,” Miller said. “Our greenhouse gas emissions will be provided on an annual basis to the board, and one of the KPIs is the level of implementation of the actions embedded in this action plan.”


CAMSR changes postponed

Representatives from Divest McGill, a student organization that advocates against McGill’s investment in fossil fuel companies, were present at the BoG meeting in anticipation of continued discussion on proposed changes to the CAMSR Terms of Reference that began in December 2017.

Divest McGill submitted two questions to be answered at the community session. The first concerned the definition of ‘social and political causes’ in which the proposed CAMSR terms of reference would prohibit university investment. The second concerned the extension of the period for reviewing the terms of reference from three to five years. According to Annabelle Couture-Guillet, U2 Environment student and member of Divest McGill, the extension of the review period threatens on-campus activism.

“The review of the terms of reference can affect processes that regulate not only divestment issues but anything related to social responsibility at McGill,” Couture-Guillet said. “The fact that we typically do our degrees in three to four years is a constraint. Reviewing the terms every five years would mean not [every student] is getting the chance to engage with the process.”

However, the BoG refused to answer any questions related to the CAMSR Terms of Reference, deferring them to the CAMSR meeting on Feb. 20. A Dec. 12 meeting of the BoG was adjourned early following protest by Divest McGill.

A vote on the proposed changes, initially scheduled for the Feb. 15 meeting, was postponed to the Board’s next meeting on April 26.

AVEQ confirms plan to reimburse SSMU for controversial Congress costs

News/SSMU by
(Erica Stefano / The McGill Tribune)

Following accusations of unauthorized purchases using company credit cards, Students’ Society of McGill University (SSMU) Vice-President (VP) External Connor Spencer and VP University Affairs Isabelle Oke explained that SSMU has conducted similar transactions in past years. They also noted that SSMU Legislative Council was notified of the purchases far in advance, and that receiving proper authorization was complicated by the absence of a VP Finance at the time.

VP Finance Esteban Herpin, who began his term in January, raised the allegations at SSMU’s Feb. 8 Legislative Council meeting. He claimed that Spencer and Oke misstepped by charging over $4,000 to SSMU credit cardswithout approval in SSMU’s operating budgetto host the Association for the Voice of Education in Quebec’s (AVEQ) January Congress at McGill. As a student federation, AVEQ regularly holds congresses for members of the various university student unions it represents or hopes to represent, including SSMU.


Financial Implications

In response to Herpin’s claims, Oke explained to Legislative Council that AVEQ agreed to reimburse SSMU for its costs. Spencer was not present at the SSMU Council in question, but she seconded Oke’s statements in an interview with The McGill Tribune, explaining that this is a normal procedure for AVEQ congresses.

“Normally what happens is the student unions pay for the expenses of the congresses and invoice AVEQ, and AVEQ invoices the other student unions that were there for their costs, which is just food,” Spencer said. “In the end, after all of this is invoiced, only $28 is going to come from SSMU money.”

Isaac Stethem, advisor to the executive at AVEQ, reiterated that it is standard procedure for local student societies to book hotel rooms, conference rooms, and catering for AVEQ congresses. He confirmed that societies are consistently refunded afterward.

“That’s been the standard practice for a number of years,” Stethem said. “It has been the practice for SSMU as well in the past [….SSMU’s expenses] will be 100 per cent reimbursed.”  

Herpin was troubled by the lack of transparency regarding Oke and Spencer’s dealings with the January AVEQ Congress.

“It seemed like a very last-minute expense of which no one was informed,” Herpin said. “[Spencer and Oke] could have discussed with accounting, the General Manager, […or] they could have invoiced AVEQ ahead of time. There could have been some kind of structure put in place where they didn’t have to use [SSMU] credit cards. That was the error there.”                

Spencer disputed the notion that she and Oke did not make their intentions to host the AVEQ Congress clear.  

“I was trying to make Council come to [this congress],” Spencer said. “I made it very clear that this was something that we were doing. There was no VP Finance at the time. I don’t know how else I could have done it.”


Political Implications

SSMU members voted against officially affiliating with AVEQ in the Winter 2016 referendum, but SSMU is still an observing member of the provincial student association. Last fall, Legislative Council postponed a second referendum on AVEQ affiliation due to SSMU members’ insufficient knowledge of the organization and a report detailing criticisms of AVEQ presented by Engineering Senator Tre Mansdoerfer.

“Part of observing is mandating the [VP University Affairs] and the [VP] External to attend [AVEQ] congresses,” Spencer said. “While there isn’t an explicit mention of hosting congresses, that was something done with the intention of making it more accessible to our members in order to [help them] make a more informed decision with this coming affiliation referendum [in March].”

Herpin is concerned that SSMU hosting the AVEQ congress might influence the way that students vote in a future referendum, as it may shift attention from the Union étudiante du Quebec (UÉQ), another provincial student union vying for SSMU’s affiliation.

“To my knowledge we’re not hosting a UÉQ conference,” Herpin said. “It could seem as preferential treatment for AVEQ and this could impact the way certain students feel about it.”

Spencer voiced frustration over Herpin’s choice to present the issue at Legislative Council rather than to discuss it directly with her.

“He knew he was coming into an executive with conflict issues, especially related to people bringing things up in Council rather than in person,” Spencer said. “But I’ve spoken to him about it and made it clear that I didn’t think what he did was ok [….] This is part of my job. It’s me doing my job well.”

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