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McGill Against Austerity hosts panel, “Protesting, Police, and Knowing Your Rights”

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(Natalie Vineberg / McGill Tribune)

McGill Against Austerity continued its series of workshops on Feb. 17 with a presentation entitled “Protesting, Police, and Knowing Your Rights,” given by civil lawyer Max Silverman. A former McGill student, Silverman currently practices with law firm Avocat Montreal and teaches at Concordia University. He talked about the history of law enforcement in Montreal and gave advice for interacting with the police.

A history of cycles

Silverman spoke critically of Montreal’s police force, which he characterized as having cycles of escalation in brutality. 

“The history of the Montreal police is basically a history of violence and corruption building up to the point where the public doesn’t take it anymore,” Silverman said. “The city intervenes, restructures the police force, says all the problems are solved and so begins the forty to fifty year cycle.”

Although Silverman applauded  the Quebec Superior Court’s decision to remove Highway Safety Code 500.1 and bylaw P-6, laws which had been used against protesters, he stated that the swift police response to the protests held in Spring 2015 was evidence of the cycle of escalation.

“[In Spring 2015] instead of the mass arrests and focusing on giving out as many tickets as possible, the focus was really on violence and weapons,” Silverman said. “The net result of these tactics was that hardly any protests lasted more than an hour and no protests lasted more than two hours.”

Interacting with police

Silverman sought to advise student activists by giving an account of a citizen’s civil rights.

“The police do not have the right to stop and identify people for no reason in this country, despite what they think and how they act,” Silverman said.

In advising the distinction between being questioned and being arrested, Silverman emphasized that the only obligation an individual has when being questioned is identifying yourself if you’ve been pulled over driving, are in a an age-restricted area, in certain parts of the city at night, or are using a reduced fare transit card.

“The general advice that we give in such a situation is that if the police stop you and try to talk to you, you ask them calmly and clearly if you’re under arrest,” Silverman said. “If they say no, then you absolutely have the right to say I’m not going to talk to you and leave.”

The need for protesting

With the increasing use of force in 2015, Silverman suggested that social movements might need to re-evaluate how they approach protesting.

“There was a time when getting arrested was the point, when getting arrested served a purpose,” Silverman said. “In our modern times with nastier police tactics, with nastier fines, with mandatory minimums in jail, there are many reasons why people have moved away from that.”

Silverman upheld that society has a need for the right to protest.

“I think that things change when people make them change,” Silverman said. “In particular, [for] people concerned about political oppression and [barriers to] protesting […] I do think the best way to counter [these issues] is to just get out and protest more.”

McGill Against Austerity organizer Christian Scott stated that he found the workshop informative.

“Protesting is our right, it’s always good to know what our rights and obligations are,” Scott said. “Keep protesting, there’s always something to change.” 

Although students largely agreed that police brutality is a concern, many did not feel convinced about the merits of protesting as a method.

“These protests generally lack clearly defined goals, so they are not likely to do much,” Griffin Smith, U0 Arts, said. “Frankly, I have more important things to do.”

Breaking down the SSMU GA motions

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(Lauren Benson-Armer / McGill Tribune)

Motion Regarding the Procurement of Products Containing Conflict Minerals

This motion concerning divestment from sourcing of conflict-free minerals from Congo was moved by Ceci Steyn, U2 Arts.

“I moved this motion because while many other divestment movements are well known, most people aren't aware that the minerals in their electronics profit violent rebel groups in the Democratic Republic of Congo,” Steyn said. “This motion aims to have SSMU demonstrate that there's a clear demand for companies to invest in responsible mining in Eastern Congo.”

The motion calls the SSMU to join the Conflict-Free Campus Initiative and for the SSMU Financial Ethics Research Committee (FERC) to update its purchasing guidelines to take conflict caused by mineral sourcing into account.

“It’s important that this motion passes in order to send the message that consumers, particularly students, care about the ethics behind products,” Steyn said. “If SSMU passes this motion, it will become part of the Conflict-Free Campus Initiative, a movement that encourages universities to demonstrate their support for companies that minimize the use of conflict minerals.”

Motion for an Increase in Indigenous Content at McGill University

The indigenous content motion calls for the vice-president (VP) University Affairs to lobby McGill regarding indigenous class offerings and the hiring of indigenous professors. The motion was moved by NDP McGill with the support of various SSMU representatives, including VP University Affairs Chloe Rourke.

“McGill is located on traditional Kanien’kehá:ka territory. It is an institution whose graduates go on take up important positions in Canadian society,” NDP McGill said in a statement to the Tribune. “We feel it has an obligation to offer courses, languages, and programs that reflect indigenous perspectives and priorities.”

VP University Affairs Chloe Rourke stated that SSMU has taken steps in the past to advocate for indigenous studies and more equitable hiring and aims to continue this work.

“The spirit of the GA motion aligns well with SSMU's ongoing advocacy towards the Indigenization of the institution,” Rourke said. “Students played a large role in the establishment of the Indigenous Affairs minor. We have also led considerable advocacy on the issue of Employment Equity within McGill, of which the concerning lack of Indigenous professors is certainly a big part of. I believe this motion is also very timely considering the release of the Truth & Reconciliation Report last year which specifically calls for action within the educational system.”

Motion Regarding Support for the BDS Movement

This motion calls for the SSMU to support BDS campaigns and lobby the McGill Board of Governors in support of BDS campaigns.

Michael McCauley, U1 Arts, is an organizing member with the McGill Boycott, Divest, and Sanction (BDS) Action Network.  He stated that the motion aims to support campus campaigns associated with the BDS movement, as opposed to direct organization of boycotting or divesting from Israeli goods or investments.

“[M]any students seem to believe that this motion would directly cause SSMU, or the university, to fully implement boycotts, divestment, and sanctions against Israeli products and institutions,” McCauley said. “This is not true.  The motion would only provide SSMU's support to BDS campaigns at McGill, in the same way that it supports Divest McGill, McGill against Austerity, and Demilitarize McGill.”

McCauley stated that the incentive to implement this motion stems from a call made by the Palestinian civil society in 2005.

“The motion is being brought forward as a response to the call by 171 Palestinian civil society organizations in 2005 for people around the world to implement boycotts, divestment and sanctions initiatives against Israel until it complies with international law and universal principles of human rights,” McCauley said.

Live updates from the Winter 2016 SSMU GA

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Can't be at the Students' Society of McGill University (SSMU) Winter 2016 General Assembly (GA)? We've got you covered with live updates. There are a variety of motions being discussed. Additionally, the GA will also see a discussion regarding whether McGill should be a smoke-free campus. The Tribune Editorial Board has also made endorsements on the motions. 


 

Looking at the effects of international tuition deregulation

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On Feb. 2, an article published in La Presse claimed that the Quebec government planned to significantly cut funding to universities in the 2016-2017 school year. To compensate, the province suggested that universities raise tuition for international students by up to 25 per cent. Though it is too early to know if McGill will act on this announcement, it comes in the wake of a long history of support for tuition deregulation from the McGill administration. 

“McGill is currently, and has historically, lobbied the provincial government to deregulate the supplementary fee that international students pay on top of their tuition,” said Emily Boytinck, vice-president (VP) External of the Students’ Society of McGill University (SSMU). “So international students are charged the base Quebec fee but they’re also charged the supplementary [fee], as are out-of-province [students].” 

In 2008, the Quebec government deregulated international tuition for six programs, leading to a rise in tuition for the faculties of Science, Engineering, Management, and Law. Currently, according to the McGill Student Accounts website, an international undergraduate student in the Faculty of Arts pays $18,258.61 a year, while a student in the Faculty of Engineering pays $37,054.55 in tuition and fees. The differences comes from fees charged to international students that, when tuition is regulated, go towards equalization payments for the Quebec government. According to McGill VP Communications and External Relations Olivier Marcil when tutition is deregulated, McGill keeps the money from these fees. 

“The problem we have currently is we feel that it’s unfair that Quebec is the only jurisdiction in North America to have a system of equalisation,” Marcil said. “What it means is that when an international student and [an] out-of-province student pay tuition at McGill, that money doesn’t stay at McGill, it goes back to the government to distribute […] as part of the [provincial student] grant […] system. And so what [we’ve been] advocating for for many years is that the money should follow the student [….] It’s just fair for the student that that money will be reinvested for services that that student will receive in exchange, and not being distributed in other institutions or [taken] back by the government.”

Marcil stated that deregulation would allow the university to put the money students already pay through fees into programs that international students can access instead of paying it back to the province.

 “The other problem with the current Quebec system of equalization is that the international students, [and out-of-province students] pay […] for the Quebec student aid program [in their tuition fees],” Marcil said. “But students from out of the province do not have access to that program [….] Fifty per cent roughly of our student body do not come from Quebec […. Whereas] there are some institutions in Quebec where 95 per cent of their student body [come] from Quebec. With a new model of funding where the money follows the student, the money stays with the institution [and] it’s fairer for those students because we’re going to strengthen our student aid program [and students won’t have to pay] for a program that’s not available for them.”

The McGill Scholarships and Student Aid Office has seen an increase in contributions from the university in recent years.

“[The university has] a commitment that 30 per cent of net new revenue derived from tuition increases was going to be set aside for student financial support,” explained Cara Piperni, director of the Scholarship and Student Aid office. “So it started in 2007-2008, I believe, where we had about $1.7 million given to us from this source and in the last [school] year [2015-2016] that’s grown to $8.3 million [….] We try to be equitable [in distributing aid], we try to meet a certain portion of tuition costs. If you’re an international student in Arts program versus an international student in the Engineering program, [and] if you have equivalent demonstrated [financial] need, then you will get a similar proportion of your fees given to you in the form of bursaries.”

However, according to SSMU VP University Affairs Chloe Rourke, the truth behind the university’s proposed increase in student aid from tuition deregulation is uncertain.

“The University has responded by saying that they intend to uphold their commitment to set aside one-third of every tuition dollar for financial aid,” Rourke wrote in an email to the Tribune. “They also emphasize that unlike many other universities in Canada, McGill provides financial aid to international students [….] However, in our recent Senate question we saw that the percentage of the cost of attendance covered by McGill financial aid is lower for international students in deregulated programs than in regulated programs. This suggests that the increase in financial aid is not enough to compensate for dramatic increases in tuition. As well, covering 30 per cent of the cost of attendance for a student who is paying $40,000 to attend each year is not the same as covering 30 per cent of the cost of attendance for a student who is paying $18,000 per year to attend.”

In addition, Rourke is concerned about how deregulation will affect the cost of attendance for international students. 

“The university has also stated multiple times that tuition deregulation does not necessarily mean a tuition increase,” said Rourke. “Due to Quebec’s complicated funding formulas, the deregulation of tuition would lead to millions of dollars more for McGill even if tuition rates remained constant; however, our concern is that these statements are misleading. Every time tuition has been deregulated we have seen an immediate increase in tuition for international students.”

SSMU has vocally opposed tuition deregulation due to concerns about its impact on the diversity of the student body.

“My primary concern with tuition deregulation is its impact on the socioeconomic diversity of our student population,” Rourke wrote. “McGill has an unusually high percentage of international students (approx 25 per cent of our population). We pride ourselves on our ‘diverse, international’ learning community, however socioeconomic diversity is an important aspect of a diverse campus that cannot be ignored. We know that students from middle-income families, particularly from the US, often choose to study a B.A. because the Faculty of Arts is still regulated, unlike Science, Engineering, or Management. If tuition is deregulated in all faculties, it would seriously threaten the ability of many students to study at McGill.”

Additionally, deregulating tuition will leave McGill free to set tuition fees at any price.

“McGill [administration] will try and argue that it’s economics [… and] they can’t raise it above the Canadian market average, because then […] they would be pushed out of the market, […] but they are forgetting that a lot of our international students are American, so a lot of their [economic] competition […] is often not other Canadian universities but other American universities,” Boytinck said. “So there’s absolutely nothing stopping McGill from raising those fees to American levels which is totally financially inaccessible and against everything that SSMU stands for.”

The Quebec government has yet to officially deregulate tuition. 

SSMU Council approves AVEQ affiliation motion for referendum

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A motion to affiliate with one of two new provincial student associations, the Association for the Voice of Education in Québec (AVEQ), was approved for the Winter Referendum at the Feb. 11 Students’ Society of McGill University (SSMU) Legislative Council.  Council approved other new motions to be voted on by students, including a motion to create a club fund fee, and heard a presentation by Tim Wilfong, from McGill Student Services, on the development of the co-curricular record.

AVEQ affiliation referendum

Students will be able to decide whether or not SSMU should move forward with joining the new provincial student federation, Association for the Voice of Education in Québec (AVEQ).

"I truly believe that it will be an effective association to advocate for McGill students' rights in so many different ways,” SSMU Vice-President (VP) External Emily Boytinck said.  “I'm excited to ask students if they want their voices to be heard at the provincial government."

SSMU councillors had individually submitted their preferences for AVEQ instead of the the Union Étudiante du Québec (UÉQ) in an online form prior to the meeting, with two councillors noting they would rather not ask the question this year.

"I'd like to state my opposition to the motion, and this has been mandated by the Medical Students' Society of McGill,” Medicine Representative Joshua Chin said  "My personal view is that […] we should not be voting on this at the moment, however it’s something we should review in the next academic year [….] It’s actually my ninth year at McGill, so I’ve seen plenty of student associations [and] federations  rise and fall."

Arts Senator Erin Sobat urged Council to move forward with the motion, citing the importance of SSMU’s presence within AVEQ to further its growth.

"I disagree strongly with the idea that this association is not robust enough," Sobat said. "It's partly not robust enough, because SSMU is not there as a member. I think it's very important that we be there to formally develop [AVEQ’s] stances, and guide this development."

Council ultimately approved the motion for referendum, with 17 Councillors voting yes, five voting no, and two abstaining.

Creation of a club fund fee discussed

Council approved for referendum a motion to instate a non opt-outable fee of $2.75 per student, per semester towards the creation of a SSMU Clubs Fund. SSMU VP Clubs and Services, Kimber Bialik, cited the financial necessity for the fee, explaining that in the first semester of this year alone, clubs applied for $117,000 in funding, and SSMU could only provide $25,000.

"[Clubs and Services] is one of the areas of SSMU that is wildly under-resourced," Bialik said. “It was already an issue that we couldn't support the clubs that we have, and now, going into a tenuous budget situation, I do not anticipate anywhere near the availability of funding that we have this year to be able to continue.”

Zachariah Houston, VP Finance and Operations addressed concerns over whether the clubs fund fee was indirectly related to the failed base fee increase during this semester’s special referendum.

 "This clubs fund fee […] is something we had talked about prior to centralizing the base fee increase,” Houston said. “[The amount] is what me and the VP Clubs and Services believed should be the amount of the fund."

Co-curricular record

Wilfong presented to Council an update on the development of a co-curricular record to outline students’ involvement in clubs, sports, unpaid volunteer work, or workshops—similar to an academic transcript.

"It includes what a student did, and what a student learned by participating in that,” Wilfong said. “Students are excited to get recognition for what they're doing.  Offering this recognition helps to increase their involvement."

Boytinck questioned how the co-curricular record may affect students who participate in fewer activities, or activities outside of the university.

"[The record] only recognizes certain university-allotted things,” she said. “But I don’t think [it] would recognize somebody who’s spent a lot of time in activist groups or […] in grassroots community organizations, and I’m wondering if [there are] plans for extending who is recognized by this, and critically looking at how this might encourage a culture of getting involved in everything”

The pilot program for the co-curricular record was launched in 2012, with an unofficial version having launched in Winter 2015.  Currently, 25 SSMU clubs and eight services are registered within the program as eligible activities, but in December 2015, Bialik approved the program’s expansion.

A new direction for daycare at SSMU

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Zineb Mouhtam has been hired as the new director of the SSMU Daycare. ( Jack Neal / McGill Tribune)

Following several months of searching, the Students’ Society of McGill University (SSMU) has hired a new Daycare director. Zineb Mouhtam has been selected to fill the position, which has been vacant since May 2015, following the resignation of the previous director, Aline Karagioules.

The responsibilities of Daycare director have been allocated to SSMU executives, namely to President Kareem Ibrahim, posing certain difficulties. 

 “It’s not easy, there has been a lot of stuff that has built up, we’ve been getting penalties for various regulations that we haven’t been adhering to because no one is in the role to fulfill those responsibilities,” Ibrahim said. “But we are confident that we are in a better place than we have been.” 

According to Ibrahim, finding the right candidate to take over the role of director was a  challenging process.

“We spent all summer interviewing quite urgently because without [a] person in the role [of director], it was pretty bad news for the Daycare,” Ibrahim said. “We were pretty unsuccessful for a while because the position profile had changed. Previously all of the accounting for the Daycare was done by the SSMU, so our controller did it and the previous Daycare Director Aline, who was in the role for about a year, thought that it would be better to absorb those responsibilities and do it herself. Those responsibilities were never transferred back to SSMU so the role became much more difficult to attract candidates for.”

Despite these additions to the director’s profile, Mouhtam expressed her enthusiasm for taking over the role. 

“The nature of my job is diverse, [including] overall coordination and administration of the two child care licenses, management of financial and material resources: budget planning, financial statement analysis with the auditor, [and] human resources management,” Mouhtam wrote in an email to the Tribune. “With a certificate in Management of Care, and experience of over 18 years, I can tell you that early childhood represents for me a true vocation.” 

Mouhtam outlined her plans for the future of the Daycare in the coming months.

“My plans [are to] establish a quality educational program in a friendly and stimulating environment that enables children to acquire skills that will position them for success in school, working with my team to ensure quality of services for children at all levels, [and to] involve parents in the nursery,” she wrote.

Alexina Hicks, a student-parent and user of the SSMU Daycare service, commended the steps that Mouhtam has already taken to give greater recognition to the needs of the Parent Committee.

“She has made the effort to personally meet the Parent Committee and she has voiced her concern regarding the lack of parent meetings in the past due to no direction,” Hicks wrote in an email to the Tribune. “She’s open to integrating a cloth diaper service to the nursery and respects the educators’ various approaches. Ideally, when things settle down she aims to have a weekly newsletter emailed to all, to keep us in touch with happenings.” 

Vice-President (VP) of the Parent Committee Manuel Balàn explained that this academic year in particular has posed more problems for the Daycare than is typical.  

“The Daycare has a structure like no other daycare I have seen, in the sense that it is run by the SSMU, which changes president every year,” Balàn wrote in an email to the Tribune. “In normal times—when there is a person in SSMU in charge of the daycare and, most importantly, when there is a Daycare director in place—this doesn’t affect the normal running of the Daycare. Unfortunately this has not been the case the last year. 

The SSMU Daycare has seen high turnover in the position of director over the past year.  Karagioules left in May, 2015, with an interim director filling the role since then, until Ibrahim’s recent takeover of the director’s responsibilities.  Balàn noted that this has caused concern for some parents. 

“In the unstable context of the last year […] many parents have taken their kids out of the Daycare or are seriously considering doing so.”

According to Hicks, the future of the Daycare is likely to change as a result of Mouhram’s organized and progressive methodology. 

 “She does not seem to have a conservative approach to the way things can be run in the Daycare, but is also focused on the priorities established by the government—security, up-to-date paperwork,” Hicks wrote.

SSMU base fee increase question fails by 17 votes

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This is a developing story. Please check back later for updates.

After two weeks of campaigning, voting for the Students’ Society of McGill University (SSMU) Winter Special Referendum has closed. The referendum proposed a $5.50 increase in the base fee per term as well as the addition of a seventh portfolio to the SSMU executive. The base fee increase was rejected with 50.3 per cent (1600)  voting “No” and 49.7 per cent (1583)  voting “Yes." The restructuring of the executive team passed with 72.1 per cent voting affirmatively and 27.9 per cent voting no. In total, 3438 students participated in voting, allowing the referendum to reach the 15 per cent required quorum with a 16.3 percent voter turnout.

“The results were kind of a shock,” SSMU VP Finance and Operations Zacheriah Houston said. “But to be honest, at first we were all just thrilled that we made quorum; the 15 per cent quorum was new this year and we were really worried that we weren’t going to make it.”

With the rejection of the proposed base fee increase, the SSMU faces a difficult decision and will likely have to make budget cuts.  According to Houston, all parts of the SSMU budget are fair game for adjustment as it considers next year’s budget during the current February budget revisions.

“It’s going to be a challenge to make the cuts that we’re going to have to make,” Houston said. “With this, we have to make a little more than $100,000 worth of cuts and adjustments, but either way, those cuts needed to be made. But everything is on the table right now. It’s going to take some time to look at the entire budget and see every area we can adjust.”

Houston and the rest of the executive team are relieved and eager to distribute the workload more evenly among the future SSMU executives, though the addition of the seventh executive will create more work for the remainder of their term.

“As disappointed as I am about the membership fee failing, it’s still such a win that the seventh executive passed,” Houston said. “It is so important that we become better able to do our jobs by distributing the workload across an additional person [….] It’s overwhelming because we have a lot of work to do now. With that question passing comes five by-law books, a bunch of policies, tons of committees, and everything needs to be revised. Our entire structure now needs to be rewritten.”

SSMU hosts panel on diversity in academia

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(Noah Sutton / McGill Tribune)

McGill staff has seen little change in diversity since the 2008 implentation of an employment equity policy. Students and faculty came together to discuss issues of employment equity this past Thursday at a panel entitled Diversity In Academia. Hosted by the Students’ Society of McGill University (SSMU), the panel featured commentary from four McGill faculty members: Associate Professor of Educational and Counselling Psychology Tara Flanagan, Professor of Civil Engineering Susan Gaskin, Professor of Law Adelle Blackett, and Professor of Sociology Zoua Vang.

The panel opened with a presentation from SSMU equitable hiring researcher Carolyn Huang on SSMU’s research report: Equity in the Hiring of McGill Academic Staff. The report highlighted the lack of changes McGill has seen since the 2008 employment equity policy. 

“Since the formal implementation [of the policy] in 2008, the percentage of employees that identify as aboriginal and people with disabilities has actually declined,” Huang said. “The employees that identify as women was only raised by one per cent since 2008 [and] 0.9 per cent for ethnic minorities.”

The report attributed these failings to a lack of communication of equity policies in the hiring process of new faculty.

“There’s no formalized communication between upper administration and departmental hiring committees,” Huang said. “There’s a lack of leadership among upper administration on equity, and in comparison to other universities which we examined […] McGill doesn’t have any particular programs or even an official equity office other than the [Social Equity and Diversity Education] (SEDE) office, which doesn’t have power to influence the upper administration’s decision making.”

The panellists were then asked to discuss what barriers they believe exist for designated minority groups. Flanagan addressed issues of inaccessibility on McGill campus for individuals with physical disabilities.

“A couple of weeks ago, a colleague and I were hosting an event at the Faculty Club that was supposed to be a place that was accessible,” Flanagan said. “We got the measurements for the elevator that went [up] from the main floor [and] sent that to our listed invitees [….] There was a wheelchair user who had a wheelchair that fit within the specifications, but once arriving to the elevator, it was clear that the invitee and the wheelchair would both not fit in the same time, so the wheelchair was brought up by a staff member at the faculty club and the person who was the wheelchair went up in the elevator without a wheelchair and had to have assistance. It was embarrassing and difficult for everybody involved. Even when we have a place that is on-paper accessible, there are still many nuances that we’re clearly not meeting.”

Gaskin spoke to the issue of subpar mentorship that is offered to women in academia when compared to their male counterparts. 

“You’re not necessarily discriminated against all through your schooling, but […] we [also] don’t get the same encouragement,” Gaskin said. “You may be very good at math or very good at science but you’re not told […] you could be an engineer or you could be a doctor. So it’s more a lack of mentoring.”

Vang addressed the difficulties that can arise for professors who are racial minorities. One difficulty, Vang explained, stemmed from the misperception that there is not a pool of qualified minority candidates that the university could hire from. 

“Minority candidates are viewed with scrutiny, and then with greater suspect,” Vang said. “If a minority candidate has the opportunity to get a job offer […] their qualifications are again questioned [….] There’s a lot of research that shows that racial minority faculty receive much poorer evaluations, and their poor course evaluations are then used by administrators or departmental heads as examples that minority faculty are less skilled teachers, when in fact a lot of the bias in those evaluations stem from conscious and subconscious bias and racial prejudice.”

According to Flanagan, the only way to correct these inequities in academia is to ensure that effort is being made from all levels of the administration. 

“I think it’s very important to take concrete actions from the ground up, let’s say hiring committees, in our classes, and how we teach, but also from the top down,” she said. “We need to be having very clear policies about the kind of actions that we take.”

SSMU Council sees controversy over involvement in new student federations

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At its Jan. 27 Council meeting, the Students’ Society of McGill University (SSMU) clarified questions regarding their involvement in forming two new provincial student federations: The Union Étudiante du Québec (UÉQ) and the Association pour la Voix Étudiante au Québec (AVÉQ). Council additionally took an early step toward establishing a smoke-free campus, and renewed its commitment to maintaining a positive relationship with the Milton-Parc community.

Provincial student federations 

Council heard presentations from representatives of the UÉQ and the AVÉQ.  SSMU Vice-President (VP) External Emily Boytinck has been involved with their formation since this past summer. Council is scheduled to present one of the federations to the student body through a referendum this semester, although it has yet to choose which one. Concerns over SSMU’s involvement with the federations’ formations were raised at the meeting, especially in regards to using SSMU’s payroll system to hire a coordinator for AVÉQ.

“There were […] these false allegations [raised at the confidential Council session] that I was sneakily hiring a coordinator of the AVÉQ and unfairly treating them, and that I was presenting these associations [in a] really biased [way,]” Boytinck said. “This was grossly misleading. First of all, it was in all of my Council reports; second of all, we didn’t actually pay for this coordinator— we just put him on our [human resources] HR software and other associations paid his salaries.”

SSMU had put the coordinator for AVÉQ on its payroll software to help the organization in its early stages; however, according to Boytinck, no SSMU funds were used to pay this employee.  

“AVÉQ now has it’s own bank account, but while it was getting off the ground we volunteered to do that,” Boytinck said. “Basically […] we signed a contract with Concordia and the Université du Québec à Trois-Rivières […] to basically pay the salary of this coordinator. SSMU didn’t pay any of it, we have a break-even AVÉQ department. We’re essentially like a bank account and we didn’t gain or lose any money because of this transaction.”

Smoke-free campus 

Council unanimously approved a plebiscite question for the Winter Referendum period to gauge student interest in establishing a smoke-free campus.

“Would you support McGill becoming a smoke-free campus if smoking cessation resources were provided and there were ongoing educational campaigns?” the plebiscite question reads.

The question comes in the wake of a student survey that showed student interest in progressing toward a smoke-free campus. The question, as SSMU Councillor David Benrimoh explained, is a means for the administration to gauge student interest in this initiative.

“This [question] is in response to the survey […] which got over 620 responses,” Benrimoh said. “We met with some members of the administration and basically they are saying ‘we’ve been waiting for students to come to us with this, we’re willing to move on it but we need to know that we have student support.’”

SSMU VP University Affairs Chloe Rourke explained that if students vote to approve it,  the transition will happen gradually, with a harm reduction approach in mind.

“Harm reduction measures can be included simultaneously with a smoke-free campus,” said Rourke. “For example, Health Services can continue to provide nicotine patches, or other harm reduction drugs or e-cigarettes as a method of quitting […] that are in line with a harm reduction approach.”

Community Action and Relations Endeavour 

Council approved updated messages for the Community Action and Relations Endeavour (CARE), which creates a framework for the relationship between students and residents of the nearby residential area, Milton-Parc, under Boytinck’s portfolio.

“The CARE agreement was written in 2010; it was meant to be sort of a series of messages and a framework to address ongoing problems between SSMU and the Milton-Parc community and McGill,” Boytinck said. “So we set up this sort of formalized relationship structure that means that we meet annually. I meet with Milton-Parc representatives on a very regular basis, and this has actually resulted in concrete improvements in the way our relationship [functions].”

The update aims to further SSMU’s commitment to developing a positive relationship with the community, explained Matthew Satterthwaite, Arts and Science councillor. 

“I’ve been a Frosh coordinator the last two years and a Frosh leader the year before that, and I saw how poorly our relationship was at the start with the [Milton-Parc] community,” Satterthwaite said. “It’s a lot better than it was before but there’s a lot of room to keep going.”

SSMU presents a new student lounge

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The SSMU Student Lounge will remain closed for rennovations until mid-semester. (Natalie Vineberg / McGill Tribune)

Renovations of the Student Lounge on the first floor of the Students’ Society of McGill University (SSMU) Building are underway, with a proposed completion by mid-semester.  

The last time the student lounge had been renovated was in the summer of 2010. According to Vice-President (VP) Clubs and Services Kimber Bialik, students can expect new couches and bean bag chairs, as well as more tables for those who like to use it as a study space. 

“The student lounge will remain fundamentally a lounge space, so students can certainly expect more in the way of couches,” Bialik said. “Designs that have been reviewed have included more table and work space.”

From November to December 2015, the status of the student lounge was unclear. Joni Williams, U2 Economics, noted that she had wanted to use the lounge, but discovered the room had been locked, then unlocked.

“I really enjoyed [spending] time in the lounge after a long class,” Williams said. “And I was a bit confused when in November and December I tried to go in, but it was closed, and then [later] reopened again.”

In November 2015, the lounge briefly closed due to a potential bed bug infestation, but was reopened when no evidence was found to back up that claim. 

“In late November, a student came to the SSMU Office and said that they believed there were bed bugs in the student lounge,” Bialik said. “SSMU immediately closed [the room] and brought in a pest control company to inspect the space for bed bugs, and after professional inspection, there were no traces of bed bugs found.” 

The SSMU lounge closed permanently for the semester after another student brought a bed bug claim to Bialik’s attention. 

“Although we already had a confirmation that there were no bedbugs following the [previous] inspection, the lounge was closed again for the duration of the exam period, simply due to the sheer number of students who were concerned that there could potentially be pests in the lounge,” Bialik said. 

 The renovations were inspired by students’ proposals to the SSMU Building Committee, which historically develops a project list and sets the priorities for SSMU without student consultation. 

“The Building Committee has a budget of roughly $40,000 annually that is restricted for space improvements within the SSMU Building,” Bialik said.

This year, she placed a hold on half of the total funds set aside for space improvements and solicited student proposals on where those funds should go— ultimately towards new furniture and carpet for the lounge. 

The new furniture includes couches, tables, and chairs, and is estimated to cost about $20,000, which is covered by the hold Bialik placed on the Building Committee’s budget for space improvements. The carpet was replaced over the winter break at a cost of $10,000.

“The [replacement of the carpeting] is being funded by SSMU’s Capital Expenditure Reserve Fund (CERF),” Bialik said.  “[This] is a restricted fund that SSMU uses for building maintenance and renovation projects to the building.” 

This week, the Building Committee will be reviewing the proposals for furniture design. After the designs and proposed expenses are approved the plans will be presented for ratification at SSMU Legislative Council.

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