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Council puts off Arts & Science rep. decision

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The Students’ Society Council defeated a proposed referendum question at their meeting on Thursday that would have asked students to establish an Arts and Sciences representative on Council.

The issue was later revisited by SSMU President Zach Newburgh allowing the question to be reconsidered as a plebiscite, a consultative instrument that provides non-binding results.

The motion was proposed by Science Representatives Shen Chen and Lauren Hudak, Arts Representative Zach Margolis, and Clubs and Services Representative Maggie Knight, all of whom are Arts and Science students.

“Arts and Science has been around for five years now and the constitution at SSMU has not changed since the program started,” Margolis said. “A lot of other faculties and schools all have seats on SSMU. It just seems like the right thing to do.”

The inter-faculty Arts and Science program has approximately 580 students. It is part of both the Faculty of Arts and the Faculty of Science, but it faces unique academic limitations and specific course requirements.

“It’s harder for [Arts or Science councillors] to represent the needs that we have when they don’t understand the course requirements and the different course restraints that we have,” said Hudak.

Councillors who opposed the referendum question cited lack of consultation and claimed that the reasons given were not valid. Ultimately, they concluded that the question was not ready for the student body.

“We questioned if adequate research was done on the question, if alternatives were considered,” said Eli Freedman, Management representative to Council. “We thought that problem should be worked out before we consider a Council position for them.”

The Arts and Science Integrative Council conducted a survey to determine if the position in council was supported by students in the program. According to Arts Representative Todd Plummer, the results of the survey did not show an actual need for representation on Council but rather that Arts and Science students do not know who their representatives are.

“They have this assumption that an Arts and Science student is not free to come to me if they want to bring a motion to SSMU Council and that’s not the case,” said Plummer.

An additional concern that arose at Council was the fact that currently Arts and Science students are eligible to run for both Arts and Science representative. It is now unclear what would happen if a special position was designated for an Arts and Science representative and whether or not they would still be eligible to be Arts or Science representatives.

“Each faculty decides in their own way who can run for their [representatives], and once this motion is passed, I fully expect different faculty associations to change their policy.”

Hudak and Margolis explained that the defeat of the proposed referendum question at Council was completely unexpected. They hope to alleviate concerns by bringing forward resolutions at both Arts  and Science Undergraduate Society Councils.

“Maybe we should have been more clear in terms of what we were trying to say. They might have taken it as if representatives of the Faculty of Arts or Science weren’t doing a good job and that is not our intention at all,” Hudak said.

Knight, one of the councillors who proposed the question, stressed that the interfaculty program has a  uniquely interdisciplinary perspective, which requires that they have their own council representative .

“It’s just basically updating the SSMU constitution to effectively address this inter-faculty degree,” she said.

According to the councillors who proposed the questions, the  completely different atmosphere among the Arts and the Sciences  makes it difficult for them to represent their respective constituencies. However, these reasons were not enough to convince the rest of council to have a referendum question.

“No one has been able to give me a single good reason as to why Arts and Science  students need a representative on SSMU council,” said Plummer. “The problems that they have addressed are academic problems which are more in the view of faculty associations.”

Council divided over coffee & tea

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A motion was passed at last Thursday’s Students’ Society Council meeting to provide coffee and tea to student councillors at their bi-weekly meetings. This seemingly innocuous resolution met resistance when some councillors objected to the vague wording in the proposed resolution.

The motion, which read, “Resolved, coffee and tea will be made available to councillors during council meetings,” elicited concerns  ranging from where the money would come from to opposition based on principle.

Nick Drew, SSMU vice-president finance and operations, said he thought the motion had been put together at the last minute and cited concerns of poor planning.

“I don’t think we should be allotting student money to pay for councillors’ coffee or tea on a regular basis,” he said. “We all know Council can be long and tedious at times, yet this is what councillors were elected to do by their constituents.”

One of the authors of the motion, Arts Senator Amara Possian, explained that they originally intended to leave space for a discussion of how the beverages would be paid for. However, she said that at the Council meeting, “no one was really interested in talking about it and then the motioned passed.”

Some councillors were concerned that the money for the beverages would be coming from students. Possian said that this was never the intention of the motion, but rather that the cost would be covered by donations from councillors.

“Students’ concerns of paying for coffee and tea are nothing to worry about,” she added.

SSMU VP External Affairs Myriam Zaidi said that the idea of having the beverages paid for by donation was brought up. Others, however, suggested paying for the coffee and tea with money from the SSMU’s investment portfolio, which has seen a $200,000 increase since last year.

“When you have someone reporting that we have $200,000 in our investment portfolio, offering coffee and tea to councillors would be something that we could afford,” Zaidi said.

However, Arts Representative Spencer Burger said he was less concerned with the method of payment than with the general notion behind the motion.

“I don’t necessarily agree with the idea of representatives in any form awarding themselves something,” he said. “I oppose it purely out of principle, [but] I understand where the councillors who proposed it were coming from.”

Zaidi pointed out that most of the debate surrounding the motion revolved around the vagueness of the word “provide” in the resolution and how it would be paid for.

“The motion just says we should provide coffee and tea,” she said. “It doesn’t say we should pay for the coffee and tea, it does not mention any other options for people who don’t drink coffee or tea.”

Some were also concerned with the motion because the SSMU executives recently decided to provide pizza to councillors at every other meeting. Some though offering both pizza and hot beverages would cost too much.

“Executive committee decided we could give pizza once a month just to kind of energize students, but looking at the bill, the cost benefit is not worth it,” Drew said. “It doesn’t add up and it’s not worth spending money on that.”

Zaidi said that the decision to provide pizza was made over the summer as “part of our vision for recognizing councillors’ effort.”

But Drew said that “spending $60-$80 on pizza for 25-30 people is exhausting our resources and it does not even satisfy most people’s hunger.”

Because of the concerns brought up after the passage of the motion and the call for more clarity in the resolution, Possian explained that the motion will most likely be appealed at the next Council, and a new more precise motion will be raised.

“It passed, but it’s probably one of the motions that is just going to fall through the cracks,” Drew said. “It will definitely be discussed at the next Council.”

Councillors move to debate QPIRG’s fee

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Several Students’ Society councillors took the first step on Monday toward introducing a referendum question asking undergraduates to abolish the student fee that support McGill’s chapter of the Quebec Public Interest Research Group, a student-run environmental and social justice organization on campus.

The proposed motion, if approved first by SSMU Council and then by undergraduates in a referendum vote, would abolish the $3.75 per semester opt-outable fee students currently pay to support QPIRG’s operations—the organization’s primary source of funds.

The notice of motion, which will be considered at Thursday’s SSMU Council meeting, comes after several weeks of escalating tensions between OPIRG and the QPIRG Opt-Out Campaign, a student group that encourages undergraduates to opt-out of paying QPIRG’s fee.

On September 23, several QPIRG members surrounded a table set up by the Opt-Out Campaign in the McConnell Engineering Building and allegedly began ripping up the group’s flyers. In response, the Engineering Undergraduate Society banned QPIRG from tabling in the building at the September 28 EUS Council meeting.

According to Spencer Burger, one of the councillors who submitted the motion, the proposed referendum question is a response to QPIRG’s actions of the past few weeks, which the motion refers to as “acts of political intimidation and violence.”

The text of the proposed motion also accuses QPIRG of supporting and funding “goals and groups that deeply disturb members of the SSMU,” including Tadamon! and Students Taking Action in Chiapas.  

In an interview, Burger, who is also a member of the Opt-Out Campaign, said that QPIRG is not treated like other campus political groups.

“Political groups can apply for funding through SSMU,” he said. “That’s how Conservative McGill gets their money, that’s how Liberal McGill gets their money, that’s how NDP McGill gets their money.”

Burger emphasized, however, that the councillors who submitted the motion—Lauren Hudak, Eli Freedman, and Matt Reid, in addition to himself—are looking to allow students to weigh in on the debate.

“This is a resolution to bring it up—not to close debate but to open it,” he said.

But Rae Dooley, a member of the QPIRG Board of Directors, said that such debate is already open. QPIRG holds a referendum every five years to renew its student fee; the most recent one passed in March 2009. In addition, she said, the proposed motion is likely illegal, as SSMU lacks the power the introduce a motion annulling QPIRG’s fees.

In an email to the Tribune, Dooley said that the motion painted “an inaccurate picture of QPIRG, our mandate, and our activities” and would stifle, rather than promote, campus debate.

“This motion is a clear attempt by a small group of students who disagree with the political opinions of QPIRG to stamp out our voice, and thus stamp out discussion on campus,” she said.

Because the proposed referendum question is only a notice of motion, it is not currently scheduled to be discussed at Thursday’s SSMU Council meeting, as per Council’s rules of debate.

According to a source within SSMU, however, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to discuss the matter, SSMU Council will likely suspend the rules and open discussion on the motion. If it passes, undergraduates will vote on the question during the Fall referendum period in November. But if the motion is not debated on Thursday, the motion will fail to meet the deadline for this referendum period.

The councillors who proposed the motion, Burger said, do not necessarily support annulling QPIRG’s fees. Instead, they are seeking a wider debate on the issue.

“I hope it passes, and I’m reasonably confident it will,” he said. “This is a resolution not to take a side on this issue, but to put it out there.”

SSMU considers switching to kegs for on-campus events

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The Students’ Society is looking into the possibility of substituting kegs for bottles at campus events such as Frosh and OAP. SSMU President Zach Newburgh said that the recently proposed alternative has several benefits over the use of beer bottles, including sustainability, safety, and ease of use.

“By using kegs we are avoiding the process of having to use bottles,” Newburgh said. “They get thrown away and are unfortunately not reusable in the same way. Kegs hold a lot more and the containers in which they are supplied cut down on the transportation cost and the recycling reusability.”  

Switching to kegs will also  make transportation easier and therefore improve safety standards, he said, since their use minimizes the potential for an accident, and therefore the chances of students getting cut or injured.

“We’ve been using bottles for years and it’s been extremely difficult to transport them,” he added. “It has been a safety issue, [and] people have reported injuries. It isn’t as effective as the better alternative that it is offered by the keg.”

Furthermore, the aesthetic benefits stemming from keeping liquid in a single container behind a serving location rather than out in the open makes kegs an appealing option.

“It just simply does not look good on the part of the university to have a pile of empty beer bottles sitting on campus, or to have empty beer bottles scattered across Lower Field,” Newburgh said.

Even though switching from beer bottles is arguably beneficial to the university community, the decision will not be finalized until SSMU receives the university’s approval.

SSMU has determined that the operation of kegs on campus is in accordance with Quebec law as long as the university grants permission for it to do so. McGill has stated that it is receptive to SSMU using kegs as long as such use is legal.

“We raised this point at the Advisory Committee on Alcohol Policy and further to that we have been speaking with legal services and the deputy provost (student life and learning) on this issue,” Newburgh said.

SSMU is in the process of getting the university’s approval, and hopes that by OAP in April the policy will be finalized and implemented.

SSMU will support campus food boycott

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In an effort to pressure the McGill administration to reopen the Architecture Café, the McGill Students’ Society Council voted to support a student boycott of McGill Food and Dining Services at its meeting on Thursday, despite the vocal opposition of several councillors.

The motion, brought to council by Arts Senator Tyler Lawson and Arts Representative Kallee Lins, represents the most direct attempt to engage students in SSMU’s efforts to convince administrators to reconsider McGill’s summertime decision to close the popular student-managed café.

Erin Hale, a former McGill Daily editor, first proposed the idea for a campus-wide boycott of Food and Dining Services shortly after the September 21 rally outside the Leacok Building, where of hundreds of students gathered in support of reopening the café. Hale started a Facebook event urging students to boycott all McGill Food Services, which had more than 3,000 members at press time.

Lawson and Lins proposed the motion after seeing the groundswell of student support for the boycott. According to Lawson, the motion commits SSMU to supporting the boycott until McGill releases the financial data showing that the café was losing money—a major point of contention for Architecture students, who have claimed that the café was in the black—and agree to discuss reopening the café. The motion exempts students with prepaid meal plans, however, as well as first-year students in residence.

“The point is to try and get some consultation on the issue,” Lawson said.

However, several councillors declined to support the motion on Thursday, with four dissenting and five abstaining, with the latter group including SSMU President Zach Newburgh. One of the most vocal councillors who opposed the motion was Lauren Hudak, a Science representative to SSMU and an occasional Tribune contributor.

“I felt that we could do something more constructive, more positive, in trying to get the administration to listen to the demands of students,” Hudak said.

Along with other councillors, Hudak argued that passing a motion supporting the boycott did not address students’ frustrations with the administration, which contracts out the management of food outlets on campus to Aramark, an outside company.

“I think by placing the pressure on McGill Food and Dining Services, we’re moving away from the original reasons students were upset that the Architecture Café closed,” she said.

Other student associations on campus have echoed Hudak’s concerns. The Management Undergraduate Society discussed passing a motion in support of the boycott at a meeting on September 26, but ultimately decided against it.

The MUS, said Eli Freedman, Management representative to SSMU, decided to not to take a stance in the fight over the Architecture Café, which few Management students patronized. In addition, the MUS feared damaging its relationship with Sinfully Asian, the popular eatery in the Bronfman Building.

“To be honest, I don’t know how many people in Management are that concerned and are participating in the boycott,” Freedman said, though he added he was personally supporting the boycott.

The Engineering Undergraduate Society also decided against endorsing the boycott at a meeting on September 29, instead leaving the decision of whether or not to boycott up to its members.

“We wanted the debate to stay centred on the lack of support for student initiatives, the lack of consultation with students,” said EUS President Daniel Keresteci.

Though the boycott will not affect the McGill administration directly, Newburgh said he hopes the indirect pressure on the university will convince administrators to reopen the café.

“Because this will affect Aramark’s sales,” he said, “which are unrelated to any kind of profit that would be received by the university, Aramark will then have some kind of incentive to approach the university and say, ‘Listen, it’s time to reconsider the closure of the Architecture Café.'”

SSMU is currently exploring several options for promoting the boycott, Newburgh said, including Facebook and the listserv emails. All six SSMU executives have been boycotting Food and Dining Services since the motion passed.

Along with representatives from other campus groups, including the EUS and the Architecture Students Association, Newburgh said SSMU has been planning additional events to protest the Architecture Café’s closure. A potluck outside the Macdonald-Harrington Building, which housed the café, is planned for the near future. Newburgh also intends to bring up the issue at the next senate meeting.

“I am confident that the university will hear us,” Newburgh added, “and that they will respond positively and constructively.”

SSMU REPORT CARDS: ALEX BROWN – VP Internal

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The Tribune applauds Alex Brown for her work with the VP Internal portfolio this year. Brown has been consistently visible and knowledgeable on Students’ Society projects and events since September.

Frosh is always a major undertaking for the vice-president internal, and Brown handled the year’s opening event successfully, generating profits to support other SSMU endeavors.

She has also been innovative and receptive to recommendations with her event planning. Brown made the difficult decision to cancel SnowAP, an event that likely would have lost SSMU over $15,000. In its place, Brown held the inaugural Week 101 in Gert’s, a successful replacement that generated profit for SSMU.

In addition to the SSMU mainstays, Brown sought out creative ways to utilize her portfolio, particularly with the leftover funds that would have gone toward SnowAP. This included smaller events such as the first – and hopefully annual – SSMU Iron Chef cooking competition, and a SSMU-subsidized ice skating outing in the Old Port, not to mention the sold-out Girl Talk concert at Metropolis.

Finally, not being one to slow down as the year comes to a close, Brown recently booked Salman Rushdie to speak to McGill students on Friday.

One criticism of Brown’s year was her lack of engagement with Athletics, an area that past VP internals have done better work in.

In Council sessions, Brown has been an outspoken contributor and never hesitates to exercise her knowledge of Robert’s Rules.

Brown has also worked to revamp the website and communications side of her responsibilities. Under her watch, the Students’ Society established the French-language version of its website.

A former VP internal once said that the main purpose of the portfolio is to make memories for McGill students – with a concentrated, yearlong effort, Brown has served this mission exceptionally well.

SSMU REPORT CARDS: SEBASTIAN RONDEROS-MORGAN – VP External

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Without a “sexy” issue like defederation or tuition hikes during his tenure, Students’ Society Vice-President External Sebastian Ronderos-Morgan has spent much of his time working behind the scenes to establish student representation and bolster community relations. And though our political views don’t always align with Ronderos-Morgan’s, the Tribune feels he has done a competent job representing students’ needs and has set the table for his successor Myriam Zaidi to fight tuition increases.

Ronderos-Morgan’s biggest achievement has been finalizing bylaws and financial practices for the Quebec Student Round Table (TaCEQ), a nascent association of Quebec students’ societies, and for that we applaud him. TaCEQ is still in its infancy and has yet to accomplish anything of note, but the Tribune is cautiously optimistic about its future prospects.

Bad luck and government bureaucracy sidetracked Ronderos-Morgan’s efforts to prmote TaCEQ this year. A plebiscite question that asked undergraduate students whether TaCEQ should continue lobbying the government to receive bursaries was declared invalid after it didn’t appear in its entirety on the winter referendum ballot. Meanwhile, the provincial government has continually stalled TaCEQ’s attempts to get official recognition.

Ronderos-Morgan has also focussed on improving relations with the Milton-Park community. He helped found the Community Action and Relations Endeavour – which brings together representatives from the university administration, SSMU, and the Milton-Park community – and has had some success planning events such as the Holiday Fair. While community outreach shouldn’t be the main focus of the VP external, we were glad to see Ronderos-Morgan make a concerted effort to patch the damaged relationship between students and Milton-Park residents.

The Tribune is concerned, however, that the VP external seems to have a lighter workload than the other VPs. While we understand that successful lobbying campaigns require some year-to-year continuity, we question the need for a VP specifically tasked with lobbying and community relations. The external responsibilities could be folded into the presidential and university affairs portfolios – with assistance from the political affairs coordinator and external affairs committee – while the VP internal could handle community relations with assistance from a student coordinator.

Despite this, Ronderos-Morgan was a vast improvement over his predecessor, Devin Alfaro, and he did well within the limitations of the role.

SSMU REPORT CARDS: COUNCIL

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SSMU’s Legislative Council has had, by many accounts, a disappointing year. Although it’s difficult to evaluate the performance of a body of this type, the Tribune feels that this year’s Council deserves a below-average grade. Although there were some councillors who were proactive, well-informed, and contributed in a constructive manner to debates, there were too many councillors who seemed to revel in making mountains out of molehills, and speaking mainly to hear the sound of their own voices.

One of Council’s most important functions is to act as a check on the executive. However, councillors must adequately inform themselves about issues, instead of simply arguing with executives for the sake of it, as councillors sometimes did. For example, there was no valid reason to block the bylaw changes proposed by President Neilson, which were eventually passed in a student-initiated referendum.

Yet another important function of Council is to put forward meaningful motions, and to contribute to the running of the Society .. However, Council this year spent too little time debating important issues, and too much time discussing trivial ones.

On the bright side, attendance at Council was excellent this year, and good work was done in many of the committees. Motions to eliminate styrofoam in the Shatner building, explore vegan food options, and to advocate for paid practicum for education students, were among the worthwhile Council initiatives.

It’s unclear whether Council’s disappointing performance this year is due to its composition, or whether this points to a need to reform the body. But either way, Council didn’t do its job as well as it should have – something that SSMU will have to consider going into next year.

SSMU REPORT CARDS: SARAH OLLE – VP Clubs and Services

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Although her portfolio has quieted down in the second semester, Sarah Olle has had an extremely successful term as vice-president clubs and services. The Tribune had high expectations for Olle, who came into the position after serving as interest group coordinator last year. She has proven herself to be more than capable.

Olle’s biggest strength is her ability to handle the day-to-day issues that arise with various clubs and services. Olle is thorough, organized, and knowledgeable about countless facets of the Students’ Society. She has made herself readily accessible to both clubs and student journalists, keeping regular office hours and always answering emails promptly.

This year, Olle was able to accomplish many things that previous VPs have long discussed, including putting room bookings online and changing activities night to a two-day event. Olle has also taken on significant new projects. The Ambassador Fee, which fills the void in funding for clubs like the Debating Union that attend off-campus events, was largely her initiative. She helped to coordinate a long-term plan for proposed renovations in the Shatner Building.

In addition, she was calm, rational, and fair when dealing with the Choose Life controversy throughout the year. She is a strong, vocal presence at Council, contributing to discussions on a wide variety of issues.

The nature of the clubs and services portfolio means that most of the work occurs during the first semester. However, this year, Olle played an important role in securing independence for the Tribune during the second semester, helping to craft budgets and negotiate various other aspects of the transition. We acknowledge our bias – Olle was the executive we worked most intimately with – but if the dedication she showed to Tribune independence was typical of her work with other clubs and services, then Olle fully deserves an “A.”

In fact, there is only one thing the Tribune can fault Olle for this year: closing down Motion to Blog.

SSMU REPORT CARDS: REBECCA DOOLEY – VP University Affairs

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At this time last year, the Tribune voiced concerns with Students’ Society Vice-President University Affairs Rebecca Dooley’s lack of experience. Before her tenure as VP UA, she’d been Queer McGill’s political action coordinator, which, the Tribune believed, was insufficient training for the portfolio. We were wrong. Since the beginning of her tenure, Dooley has demonstrated a firm understanding of the university’s inner workings, and thanks to her hard work, she has succeeded in most areas of her portfolio.

In the first semester, Dooley worked closely with Jonathan Glencross to promote a new $7.50 student fee for the Sustainability Projects Fund. She also formed an undergraduate student taskforce, “The McGill We Want,” which will ultimately draft a report suggesting ways to improve the undergraduate experience.

At SSMU Council meetings, Dooley spoke frequently, defending her opinions while forging compromise between disparate factions of councillors. At University Senate meetings, though, Dooley appeared timid, and sometimes outmatched by other senators. Behind closed doors, however, Dooley was a strong student advocate. In committees, she fostered strong relationships with professors and administrators, tackling issues such as McGill’s problematic research policy draft.

This past semester, Dooley led a series of meetings between the Equity Committee and Choose Life, the embattled pro-life club, retooling the group’s constitution. Though the meetings were hostile, in the end, Choose Life and the Equity Committee compromised, coming to terms on a document. This was a major victory, and Dooley deserves a large portion of the credit.

Dooley is affable and approachable, and she thoroughly understands the role of the VP UA. We can only hope that next year’s VP UA, Joshua Abaki, emulates Dooley’s work ethic, amiable demeanour, and willingness to compromise with both the administration and other students.

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