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SSMU Restructuring: How the addition of VP Operations affected SSMU

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

AUS Legislative Council appoints VP Finance and Arts Representative replacements

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

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

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

Motions to appoint VP Finance and Arts Representative to SSMU

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

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

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

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

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

Space improvements to Leacock Building

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

SSMU Council votes to remain an observer at AVEQ

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

“Order an Angelot” Campaign

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

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

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

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

 

Motion on Participation in AVEQ

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

SSMU motion against ancillary fee increases invalidated by legal contract

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Century resigns from MUSA Executive following backlash from SSMU campaign

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Muna Tojiboeva wins SSMU presidency

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

On March 16, the Students’ Society of McGill University (SSMU) elected Muna Tojiboeva as SSMU President with 53.1 per cent of the vote. 21.8 per cent of the student body participated in the election compared to the 17.5 per cent turnout during the last year’s SSMU election.

Vice-President (VP) Operations Anuradha Mallik, VP Internal Maya Koparkar, VP Finance Arisha Khan, VP External Connor Spencer, VP University Affairs Isabelle Oke, and VP Student Life Jemark Earle will join Tojiboeva on the executive team.

“It feels a bit too unreal,” Tojiboeva said. “I’m super happy obviously. I’m a bit surprised [and] I’m super excited for the upcoming year.”

Looking forward to next year, Tojiboeva will prioritize mental health, implementing a sexual assault policy, and reforming the Judicial Board.

“I want to implement the sexual assault policy,” Tojiboeva said. “It’s one of the more urgent manners. I’d [also] like to see the budget and talk to [McGill Counselling and Mental Health Services] to see what can be done. I was an outsider to SSMU so I’m sure there will be things that I’m not aware of […] but definitely my priorities are mental health, the sexual assault policy, and the Judicial Board.”

Presidential candidate Helen Ogundeji, who received 38.6 per cent of the votes, shared her thoughts on the election results.

“I think the election outcome reflected what the majority of the students who voted wanted but not the desires of all students (since [presidential candidate] Lukas [Shannon] and I both garnered votes),” Ogundeji wrote to The McGill Tribune. “So for next year I’m going to continue to work on implementing my projects […] and hope that it all works out well.”

All three of the presidential candidates’ platforms addressed recent events at SSMU–including allegations of sexual assault raised against two now-resigned executives–and restoring students’ faith in student government.

“I’m looking forward to [rebuilding trust]. I think it can be done and I can’t wait to start,” Tojiboeva said. “I’ll talk to all the [incoming executives] and try to see what their vision is and how we can work together. Obviously there’s been a lot of disconnect between SSMU and students. I would need to talk to the other people in order to see what they want to do [….] Hopefully it’ll be a better year for SSMU.”

Unlike this year’s SSMU executive board, which had only one female member, women will fill six of the seven positions in the 2017-2018 academic year. The previous board also lacked diversity, but will now have executives from various ethnic backgrounds.

“I think it’s going to be a very interesting [executive] this year because it’s mostly women and people of colour,” Koparkar said. “As a woman and person of colour, I’m really excited to represent students’ different perspectives and I think they will welcome the difference from this year.”

Spencer said that she will likely begin to assist with the responsibilities of the VP External, a position that is currently empty, before the official turnover in May.

“I think that it’s important that I can use my position to represent their interests to make sure real changes happen, especially around sexualized violence,” Spencer said.

The executive team will officially transition into their new positions with help from current SSMU executives.

“This is a portfolio I put my life into so I’m grateful for [being elected],” Koparkar said. “I really just want to get settled. [Daniel Lawrie is] going to be transitioning me until my contract gets started. I’ve been working with [Lawrie] already so [the job is] something I’m used to.”

Earle expressed his enthusiasm to learn about his position with the help of VP Student Life Elaine Patterson.

“[Being elected] feels great, to be completely honest,” Earle said. “It was my dream to be a SSMU executive [….]  Over the summer, I’m looking forward to shadowing Elaine and really seeing what the job has to offer and to really start to implement ideas from my platform.”

 

Vote breakdown

VP Operations Anuradha Mallik: Yes, 89.8 per cent.

VP Finance Arisha Khan: Yes, 92.7 per cent

VP Student Life Jemark Earle: Yes, 90.1 per cent

VP External Connor Spencer: Yes, 84.1 per cent

VP Internal Maya Koparkar: Yes, 90.7 per cent

VP University Affairs Isabelle Oke: 58.4 per cent

President Muna Tojiboeva: 53.1 per cent

Elections SSMU invalidates ballots

News/SSMU by
(Students' Society of McGill University)

On March 13, Elections SSMU invalidated votes cast on the first day of the election period. Since the preferential voting system required by Internal Regulations and Referenda, Section 6.1 was omitted in the service, students whose ballots were cancelled will have to vote again. The aforementioned clause ensures a winner in the event that no candidate wins a majority of the vote. Initially, a plurality voting system was used, meaning voters were unable to rank their choice of candidates in order of preference.

“We missed a crucial detail in the Internal Regulations,” Chief Electoral Officer Alexander Nehrbass wrote in an email to The McGill Tribune. “A preferential voting system has to be used for 3+ candidate races to ensure we can calculate a majority outcome. I cannot emphasize how sincerely sorry we are [….] It has been a hectic week culminating in a truly unfortunate mistake.”          

Following the error, presidential candidate Muna Tojiboeva expressed her dissatisfaction with the election oversight.

“I think it is unacceptable but there is not much we can do at this point since it is an [Internal Regulations] IR issue,” Tojiboeva wrote in an email to The McGill Tribune. “I am disappointed and discouraged to say the least but pleased that the democratic process is being upheld in accordance with the [IRs].”

In spite of the mistake, Vice-President (VP) Operations candidate Anuradha Mallik explained that students should not be dissuaded from participating in this year’s election.

“While it may further discourage students from engaging with SSMU, I laud the elections team for fixing the voting rollout issue so speedily,” Mallik wrote in an email to The McGill Tribune. “Democracy works best when rules are followed and although it can be inconvenient, it's best to stay true to it. I encourage constituents to engage in the political system at McGill regardless and have their voices heard!”

The voting period will last until March 16 at 3 p.m. and results will be announced at 5 p.m. on the same day.

SSMU Legislative Council passes motion on constitutional amendments, discusses Ger resignation

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

At the Students’ Society of McGill University (SSMU) Legislative Council meeting on March 9,  a lengthy question period took place due to the sudden resignation of former SSMU President Ben Ger earlier that day. In anticipation of the length of the question period, councillors voted to amend the agenda so that approximately half of the motions were voted on before it began. Council members passed the Motion Regarding SSMU Support For Floor Fellow Bargaining and the Motion Regarding the Endorsement of the McGill Communities Council Letter to the Board of Governors. Councillors then debated the current balance of power between the Judicial Board (J-Board) and the Board of Directors (BoD), with reference to the Motion Regarding the Amendment of Internal Regulations of Governance. The motion was ultimately amended and then passed. After the question period, Council passed all of the remaining motions.

 

Question Period

At the beginning of Council, Vice-President (VP) Student Life Elaine Patterson read an addendum prepared by former president Ger regarding his resignation.

“Based on serious concerns raised by students close to [Ger], the Executive recognized his own inadequacy in handling the David Aird case and has failed his responsibility in upholding the safety of our members,” Patterson said. “In light of this, he was personally and professionally unsuited to continue in his position of authority as president of SSMU.”

Clubs Representative Adam Templer asked Patterson why Ger was inadequate for the position. Patterson explained that a person came forward and made allegations that Ger had committed gendered violence in the past.

“The Executive recognizes that somebody that has allegations of gender-based violence against them is not equipped to handle the scenario […] regarding David Aird,” Patterson said.

During the question period, councillors addressed allegations involving Ger and former VP External David Aird. Questions focused on the Executive Committee, Legislative Council, and BoD members’ knowledge of Ger and Aird’s actions.

Science senator and former BoD member Sean Taylor asked VP University Affairs Erin Sobat when he became aware of Ger’s sexual assault allegations. Sobat answered with reference towards Aird’s allegations.

“A couple of members of the Community Disclosures Network [CDN] reached out to me in early February, about how an executive might be removed from a position,” Sobat said. “The specific nature of their concern was not disclosed in detail. I only became aware of those incidents and testimonies when they were reported on by The McGill Daily.”

 

Motion Regarding the Amendment of Internal Regulations of Governance

The Motion Regarding the Amendment of Internal Regulations of Governance proposed a change to the number of votes required for the BoD to overturn J-Board decisions. Additionally, the motion proposed that the Legislative Council be able to pass decisions before ratification from the BoD.

Council voted to split the motion into two separate sections for voting. Council members voted to accept all sections of the motion except clause 4.c.

Clause 4.c would give the BoD the ability to overturn a decision made by the J-Board with a two-thirds majority if the decision is deemed unreasonable or motivated by prejudice, collusion, bribery, or conflicts of interest. Current regulations, which will remain in place, require a four-fifths majority for such changes to be made.

Faculty of Law Representative Romita Sur expressed her concerns with clause 4.c.

"The Law Students Association voted unanimously […] against this motion,” Sur said. “[….] In light of everything going on, I think it is important to remember that the [BoD is] involved with very intense political processes and the [J-Board] is a place that is supposed to be neutral."

Arts Representative Isabella Anderson responded to Sur’s comments, explaining that the Arts Undergraduate Society (AUS) Council held a straw poll, which was in favour of the motion, including clause 4.c.

VP Finance Niall Carolan made the case for the BoD's political neutrality.

"The [BoD] does not discuss any political issues, the only reason the Board is there is to preside over legal and financial responsibilities of the society," Carolan said.

A motion was proposed to bring clause 4.c to the J-Board Review Committee which was passed.

 

Motion Regarding Referendum Question on Constitutional Amendments

SSMU also discussed its upcoming referendum question, which contained many alterations to the SSMU Constitution, including changing the VP Operations executive title to VP Operations & Sustainability. Additionally, the motion proposed a change to the definition of quorum for the General Assembly (GA), such that there would be no faculty requirement for quorum. Currently, there is a requirement that at least four faculties must be represented in order to reach quorum.

The Winter 2017 GA had difficulty reaching quorum on Feb. 20 and has had similar issues in the past. Sobat explained the impetus for the change and said that without quorum, the GA cannot provide proper representation.

“There were times when we had quorum, and then lost it,” Sobat said. “To me, that is not representation, that is fighting for quorum.”

Senate Caucus Joshua Chin responded to Sobat's statement regarding representation.

“I am very uncomfortable with the removal of faculty requirements for quorum,” Chin said. “[….] I feel that we are making [GAs] less representative.”

Chin put forth an amendment to the motion that would reinstate faculty requirements for GA quorum. The amendment failed and Council then voted to pass the motion

SSMU Election 2017: VP University Affairs

Elections/News/SSMU by
(L-A Benoit / The McGill Tribune)

The Students’ Society of McGill University (SSMU) Vice-President (VP) University Affairs represents student interests at level of the university administration. The VP University Affairs sits on the McGill Senate, maintains relations between SSMU and all levels of the university—except for the Board of Governors, which falls within the President’s portfolio—oversees SSMU’s student research endeavours, and operationalizes SSMU’s commitment to equity.

The two candidates for 2017-2018 are Alexander Dow and Isabelle Oke. At the press conference on March 6 and the debate on March 9, candidates were able to elaborate on their platforms.

Oke elaborated on her plans to bring happy lights and both visual and non-visual cues to the library in order to help students understand the health effects of studying. Her platform, which focuses on campus outreach, student rights, and accessibility, spoke about what she thinks is the VP University Affairs’ most important responsibility.

“The university’s process in providing education is something that’s inherited generation by generation,” Oke said. “I see the student body as being an intermediary group that protects the individual rights of students on campus when the university can’t recognize what they are necessarily. That’s the framework with which I see SSMU’s strongest institutional power.”

At the debate, candidates spoke about engaging students, particularly those dealing with mental health issues or sexual assault.

Candidates were asked questions sent in from the outgoing executives, with Chief Electoral Officer Alexander Nehrbass and Deputy Electoral Officer Nicholas Nehrbass moderating the debate. Current VP University Affairs Erin Sobat asked about barriers that block student accessibility to the McGill experience and how the candidates would work to address those. Oke spoke about accessibility challenges in the classroom, the precarious status of student labour, and overhead fees.

Dow’s platform is characterized by the phrase “students first.” He focuses on giving students a voice on campus and rebuilding lines of communication between the student body and SSMU.

“One of most important parts [of accessibility] is advocating to upper administration that if something is wrong you need to have student support within that faculty in order to change those things,” Dow said.

In response to a question from Sobat, which clarified that mental health falls under the VP Student Life portfolio, the candidates focused on different channels for improving the mental health system at McGill. Dow mentioned increasing discussion on healthy study habits and his intention to work with the Library Improvement Fund—overseen by the VP University Affairs—to address related mental health issues.

Oke discussed the overburdening of student health services and the need to extend mental health education and care to the classroom. Increased demand for the newly merged McGill Mental Health and Counseling Services has led to long wait times and complaints this year.

“More accessible teaching practices will result in lesser burden on mental health services [professionals],” Oke said.

An audience member posed a question about the VP University Affairs’ role regarding the new Policy against Sexual Violence approved by the BoG in December 2016. Sobat worked on the policy at the level of the Senate this past year, and the future executive will be working on the implementation phase of the policy as detailed in section 7 of the policy.

“Communication with students on this issue will be key because if students don’t know where to go […] this policy will not succeed,” Dow said. “[….] I want to make sure that students are able to use it in future.”

Oke explained that she would want to provide students with information on how the policy is implemented and so will be able to communicate specifically what implementations should be made.

When asked about the equity portion of their portfolios, Dow spoke about emphasizing delegation to equity commissioners who are knowledgeable and understanding of the policy.

Oke expressed a desire to focus on a specific issue, namely safety on campus.

“I want to focus on one thing and get a lot of traction going on a specific issue,” Oke said. “The idea I want to tackle is safety on campus, what creates it, what sustains it, and what different institutions on campus have a role to play on it.”

SSMU Election 2017: President

Elections/News/SSMU by
(L-A Benoit / The McGill Tribune)

The Students’ Society of McGill University (SSMU) President is the spokesperson of the Society, enforces its constitution and internal regulations, and manages relations between SSMU and McGill. The president is also responsible for coordinating the SSMU executive team.

The three candidates are Lukas Shannon, Helen Ogundeji, and Muna Tojiboeva. At the press conference on March 6 and the debate on March 9, candidates were able to elaborate on their platforms.

At the press conference, Shannon explained how he would create a dialogue committee to promote constructive conversations regarding contentious issues on campus.

Ogundeji described her idea to create an ad-hoc subcommittee that would explore the creation of a code of conduct for student executives.

Tojiboeva spoke on how she will reform the relationship between the Board of Directors (BoD) and the J-Board.

“Most of the petitions [for hearings] are directly against SSMU executives […] and the executives in question do sit on the [BoD],” Tojiboeva said. “In my experience, [executives have] always found a way to slow down the process [….] What I really want to do is to make sure that the SSMU [J-Board] can be called an independent body.”

At the debate, the candidates were asked questions submitted by the outgoing executive, with Chief Electoral Officer Alexander Nehrbass acting as moderator. Ben Ger, who resigned earlier that same day, asked how each candidate would balance support and accountability in their role as leader of the executive team.

Ogundeji reiterated her plan to implement an executive code of conduct, which she said will hold the executives accountable to a specific standard. Shannon stated that he believes there is no conflict between support and accountability.

Tojiboeva answered that she would ensure that minutes from the BoD meetings were posted on the SSMU website.

The second question from Ger asked what the candidates believed to be SSMU’s priorities in terms of advocacy at the level of McGill administration, specifically on the Board of Governors (BoG). The SSMU President is the only undergraduate representative on the BoG.

Tojiboeva responded that she would advocate for an increase of mental health services on campus and, as the only undergraduate representative, would seek feedback from other undergraduates when deciding which other issues to advocate for at that level. Ogundeji said that greater change would be possible if more students had a voice on the BoG and intends to increase representation. Shannon agreed with Ogundeji, adding that he would seek to strengthen his connection with non-student members of the BoG.

In response to a question from the live stream, the candidates elaborated on their ideas for Francophone affairs, which technically falls under the VP External portfolio. Ogundeji proposed the creation of a buddy system between students who are from Montreal and those who are new to the city.

Tojiboeva suggested the creation of a week focused on Francophones. She also proposed the creation of a mentoring system that would support students who are transitioning from a French education system into the English system at McGill.

A member of the audience asked how the candidates would support racialized students on campus. Ogundeji elaborated on her platform, stating that she would seek to create a program with the VP Student Life and the Mental Health Subcommittee that would support such groups.

“I have experience working on equitable governance reform committee, working with committee members to create equity seats on council and to create racialized seats and black student seats, given the colonial and slave-owning history of McGill,” Ogundeji said.

Tojiboeva explained that her proposed changes to the J-Board would help SSMU to better reflect the needs of marginalized students. Shannon stated that he would seek to expands platforms that marginalized students can speak from.

The debate portion of the event focused on the distribution of mental health resources. Students currently pay over $100 per semester to Student Services, which funds services such as the McGill Counselling and Mental Health Services. SSMU’s budget currently subsidizes the Peer Support Centre, Nightline, and SACOMSS.  

Tojiboeva claimed that the 2016-2017 SSMU budget did not allocate any funds to mental health services. After a question from Ogundeji, Tojiboeva clarified that she would use the surplus that SSMU is projected to run this year to streamline the existing system.

“[I would] make sure the system that already exists becomes more effective, [instead of creating] new things because would take more money than that to create a functioning system,” Tojiboeva stated.

A previous version of this article misspelled Helen Ogundeji's name. The Tribune regrets this error. 

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