Tomorrow, Wednesday Feb. 5, marks the Winter General Assembly (GA) of the Students’ Society of McGill University (SSMU). The GA is one of the few places in which students are able to debate, discuss, and directly communicate with their student government in a forum. This week’s event presents us with several resolutions that have the potential to impact student life.
The guarantee of freedom of dress in the SSMU Building: Yes, with reservations
This motion seeks to prevent the infringement of the right to “freedom of dress” in the SSMU Building and at SSMU events, and also seeks to overturn any standing blanket bans on student dress. The motion reportedly stems from an equity complaint concerning the signature lab coats of the Plumbers’ Philharmonic Orchestra (PPO), a student group in the Faculty of Engineering. The lab coats, which have various—and often crude—drawings and writings on them, were considered offensive by some students. An equity complaint was filed last year and the coats are currently banned from the SSMU Building. The Tribune supports the resolution’s principle of freedom of expression, but stands by the vision laid out by the SSMU Equity Policy. The reversal of blanket bans such as this may lead to numerous case-by-case rulings to the same ends; although inefficient, this process is crucial in justly implementing the Equity Policy.
This motion is in reference to several provisions in McGill’s University Student Assessment Policy that regulate the scheduling and weighing of exams. The first of the two provisions in question prohibits final exams from counting for more than 75 per cent of a course grade unless students are given an alternative option. The second mandates that if there are exams that count for more than 50 per cent of a class mark, one of those exams has to be offered in the final exam period.
In an attempt to improve compliance with these rules, the resolution seeks to have SSMU support the mandatory addition of the two provisions, as well as other academic rights, on both course syllabi and in the student handbook. Although there are questions as to how this will be implemented, and whether the administration and professors will be willing to add more content to syllabi, the Tribune supports this resolution. Aside from logistical issues of how this mandate may be put into practice, the increased visibility—and compliance with—academic rights is a goal SSMU should be working towards.
Timely Distribution of Course Information: Yes, with reservations
This motion would compel SSMU to lobby for the distribution of course syllabi as soon before the start of classes in the term as possible, on the grounds that the current system exposes students to scheduling and financial strains due to an inability to prepare before the start of classes. While the Tribune supports the intent of this resolution, the standard should be something more specific than “as early and as accurately as possible.” Presuming such a resolution is to be taken to McGill administration in lobbying for these changes, a clearer expectation of punctuality could form a better negotiating position.
With the elimination of the Sustainability Coordinator position late last year, SSMU also created an ad-hoc committee on sustainability. With no clear progress from the committee to this point, this motion sets a timeline by which recommendations are to be made to the student body.
Throughout the various changes to SSMU’s sustainability framework over the past semester, very little has been accomplished. The elimination of the coordinator position represents a drastic shift in SSMU’s approach to sustainability; the implications of this shift have yet to be seen.
While we believe that sustainability should be a priority for SSMU, we advocate an abstention for two reasons. First, a GA motion should not be necessary to force a committee into action. Second, an abstention would reflect a dissatisfaction with SSMU’s lack of transparency in handling this matter, and a desire to see greater communication going forward.
Regarding the TPP and CETA: Abstain
This motion, would seek to have the SSMU officially take a stance against provisions of two trade agreements with the European Union; the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), and the Comprehensive and Economic Trade Agreement (CETA). The two trade agreements contain provisions on pharmaceutical patents that have caused controversy due to predictions of cost increases. While this is a very important issue that students should take the time to consider, there are two major problems with this specific resolution. First, the issue in question is not only external to SSMU but lacks a sufficient nexus to university students, let alone McGill students, to warrant a stance on SSMUs part. Furthermore, these trade agreements are very detailed proposals with complex public policy implications that require more time and nuance than part of a GA can provide. Therefore, the Tribune supports an abstention on this resolution.