SUS constitutionality questioned in Judicial Board petition

Asa Kohn, U1 Mathematics and Statistics, has filed a petition against the Science Undergraduate Society (SUS), accusing the organization of ignoring its constitution’s instructions on how to proceed in the event of a resignation. He sent the petition to the Students’ Society of McGill University (SSMU) Judicial Board (J-Board) on March 10, but claims he has yet to receive a response, apparently in violation of the Board’s procedures.

Kohn insisted that student representatives should respect their governing documents.

“It’s fine, in general, if someone doesn’t care [about procedure],” Kohn said. “I would say it’s less fine when your job is to enforce procedure. Having procedure is important in defending against abuses of power.”

Kohn claims that SUS executives willfully ignored the Society’s constitution after the Jan. 23 resignation of SUS SSMU representative Moses Milchberg, when President Reem Mandil stated that members of the Executive Committee would represent science students at the SSMU Legislative Council for the remainder of his term. However, the SSMU Standing Rules stipulate that a student society cannot send a proxy for a representative position more than twice in one year. To avoid breaching procedure, the Legislative Council passed a motion on Feb. 7 to allow SUS executives to attend in Milchberg’s place.

The SUS Constitution states that the SUS must hold a by-election in the event of a resignation. Kohn claims that SUS executives broke this rule when they announced that they would be using proxies for the rest of Milchberg’s term. In protest, Kohn petitioned the SUS to include a referendum question during the winter SUS referenda that asked whether, in the event of a resignation, the candidate with the next-highest number of votes in the election for SUS SSMU representative could take over a vacant position. In the case of this year’s elections, the person with the next highest number of votes is Kohn himself. In an email sent on Feb. 24, SUS President Reem Mandil deemed the question invalid and refused to place it on the ballot. According to Mandil, the decision not to replace Milchberg was deliberate and fair.

“A by-election was deemed not an appropriate course because of time [constraints],” Mandil said. “We had our full elections coming up a few weeks after the resignation [of the SSMU representative]. We decided against an appointment because they would have been hired by the executives [instead of being] elected, and we wanted the remainder of the Legislative Council sessions to be attended by an elected member.”

The J-Board, SSMU’s judicial body that resolves internal disputes, has not yet replied to Kohn’s constitutional challenge of the SUS’s actions. This lack of response is an apparent violation of the Board’s internal procedures, which mandate it to accept or reject new petitions within 14 days. Chief Justice Georgina Hartono did not provide a comment explaining this delay.

SSMU President Tre Mansdoerfer explained that there were issues unrelated to this petition that have delayed the J-Board’s response. However, he also believes that Kohn lacks an understanding of what is necessary for good governance.

“I understand where [Kohn] is coming from; however, there’s got to be the recognition that other governance bodies have agreed with [the SUS’s] decision,” Mansdoerfer said. “Student societies have a yearly turnover, which may result in cases where constitution must be broken not in a way that is malevolent, but in a way that facilitates best practices. I think SUS’s decision to [use executives as proxies] is better than deciding to throw someone into the role that has no experience this late into the year.”

Kohn’s experience in student government is controversial: He temporarily worked as the Vice-President Finance for the Royal Victoria College’s (RVC) Residence Council, where he allegedly made other council members uncomfortable. Impeachment procedures were to be enacted against him, but he resigned before they officially took place. According to an anonymous RVC councillor, Kohn had obstructed the Council’s ability to govern.

“[Kohn] became really neurotic about the constitution,” the Council member said. “He wouldn’t let us talk about events […and] he was just really controlling [….] I talked to our Inter-Residence Council advisor and also the Residence Life Advisor and debriefed everything and he told us the best process was to impeach him.”

The SUS General Council has their last meeting on Apr. 10, and SSMU’s last meeting was on Apr. 4. Mansdoerfer stated that the petition could be heard by the J-Board in the next academic year.

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