Universities are not easy to run. Administrators are constantly under pressure to make ends meet. To balance the budget sheet they must pay thousands of salaries, manage millions of dollars in infrastructure, fundraise, lobby and beg to pay for it all. In an age of austerity, this is unimaginably harder. All this considered, to make the budget work, should the administration be squeezing SSMU for every last penny? I say no.
Between cutting paycheques and writing letters to bureaucrats and donors, sometimes the administrators need to pay attention to students. Most universities leave it up to students to collectively organize in student-run spaces. They allow students to collectively levy a fee, and create a union which runs services and funds clubs. In the best of times, these unions are the centre of student life—a fond memory for alumni and a pull for potential students. They run essential services like childcare for young parents seeking an education and a stable future, and student clubs for marginalized students seeking a safe, familiar, and comfortable space. Although our dear SSMU isn’t omnipresent—and thankfully so—it provides great happiness and stability to many students, and by extension makes everyone’s lives better, including those of the admin. So what’s the problem?
The administration has been charging SSMU a ridiculous, almost debilitating amount of rent for the Shatner building. Read the past budgets on the SSMU website; hundreds of thousands of dollars [Ed. note: $210,000.00 in 2011-2012] have been sucked out of SSMU’s meagre budget for rent (one of the lowest budgets of any student union) into the dwindling coffers of McGill. While it is understandable that McGill needs money, it is wrong to take it from students. At this moment, our SSMU execs and the admin are in confidential negotiations to decide on the terms of the lease.
SSMU shouldn’t be praised by students in its handling of the lease. It hasn’t been doing the best job raising awareness about the most important issue facing its existence. Whereas it should be making public demands, staging rallies, and writing to alumni, the execs sit and quietly negotiate. Most students have no idea that SSMU’s ability to function is at stake. Almost none know about the negotiations and fewer, not even me, can name what our core demands are.
The lease is the sacred, long term document which decides how much SSMU will have to pony up to exist. Other universities charge basically nothing to their student unions. So should McGill.
—Jimmy Gutman, Arts Senator