On Oct. 27, former Student’s Society of McGill University (SSMU) engineering senator Alexander Dow, U3 Engineering, submitted an open letter to the McGill administration in response to the Oct. 23 SSMU General Assembly (GA). The petition, which expresses SSMU members’ dissatisfaction with the GA’s failure to represent the greater student population, received a total of 468 signatures. Tre Mansdoerfer, U3 Engineering, also contributed to writing the letter.
The petition calls for the 100-student quorum currently constitutionally required for SSMU GAs to be raised substantially. Despite the fact that 100 students is less than 0.5 per cent of the undergraduate student population, the GA rarely reaches quorum unless controversial topics are on the agenda. In response to the letter, the SSMU Board of Directors (BoD) voted on Oct. 29 to add a question of raising quorum to 350. Referendum questions are typically approved via motion by the SSMU Legislative Council or through a vote at the GA.
The first concern that the letter addresses is the allegations of rising anti-Semitism and disrespect for ideological differences on campus, especially in light of Noah Lew’s failure to be ratified as a member of the BoD. Dow believes polarization within SSMU has caused tension among the student body.
“What we ideally want is [for SSMU] to remain a place where we can respect student opinions,” Dow said. “Universities are where we share and exchange ideas, not cut out ones that we don’t believe.”
According to the second section of the letter, the goal of raising quorum is to prevent any vocal minority from unilaterally controlling and undermining democracy in GA votes in the future. If quorum is not reached, the GA becomes a consultative forum, which cannot pass resolutions. However, the minutes from the forum can be attached to SSMU’s online referenda, which have higher voter turnouts.
In 2012, SSMU amended its constitution so that all resolutions passed at the GA must later be sent to an online vote for ratification. Given that many students are unable to attend GAs, the open letter calls for the Oct. 23 GA motions to be online referenda questions and for the GA to be a consultative forum.
To SSMU Vice-President Student Life Jemark Earle, the nomination of all 10 directors, including those who failed to secure a seat at the BoD, should be included in an online vote.
“To elect directors to SSMU, we need a greater percentage [of students] to weigh in on this matter,” Earle said. “I think that all [nominations] should go to referendum.”
The number of signatures on the petition, which exceeds the number of students who were present at the fall GA, demonstrates many students’ distaste for how important governance decisions are made. Earle says he commends the initiative of the letter and hopes to see the outlined concerns pushed toward resolution.
“I love when discussion happens,” Earle said. “As an executive, I think it’s well within my mandate to […] represent all opinions on campus. I think that the [disapprovals] outlined in the open letter to SSMU executives were all valid [points].”
For Annalise Patzer, U0 Nursing, the open letter holds SSMU accountable for hostility she’s seen on campus.
“Considering [how anti-Semitism] is happening at a level that is supposed to be the student representation for our university, [my Jewish friends] were concerned about how they are supposed to navigate university,” Patzer wrote to The McGill Tribune. “I just think the open letter is calling McGill and SSMU to take responsibility for this negative culture and image and harm they have created on campus.”
A previous version of this article incorrectly stated that the petition called for quorum to be raised to 350. In fact, the petition only calls for the quorum to be raised substantially while the motion to the Board of Directors calls for the quorum to be raised to 350. The Tribune regrets this error.