The Post-Graduate Students’ Society of McGill University (PGSS) Council held a meeting on March 21 during which they announced an accessibility audit of Thomson House and discussed a motion to amend the responsibilities of PGSS commissioners.
Audit of Thomson House
PGSS Financial Affairs Officer Matthew Satterthwaite announced that a review of the Society’s accessibility is currently underway at Thomson House. Occupational Therapy students at McGill have partnered with the organization Accessible Montreal to conduct the audit, which will take place between March 12 and May 11.
“What we want to do at Thomson House is not only address the physical barriers but also expand our notion of what accessibility is in terms of services that are being provided, usability of spaces, and disabilities like visual impairment,” Satterthwaite said.
Motion to Amend the PGSS Society Activities Manual to Amend Commissioner Roles and Duties
The main discussion of the meeting concerned a motion to amend the roles and duties of PGSS commissioners—PGSS officials that pursue a variety of advocacy portfolios independently of PGSS executives. Broadly, the motion delineates whom commissioners report to, what their responsibilities are, and how much they are paid. The most divisive clauses addressed mandating PGSS executives to supervise commissioners and creating a stipend amounting to six hours of work per week at a rate of 15 dollars per hour for commissioners.
The PGSS executives explained that these changes are necessary to accommodate the commissioners’ expanding portfolios and to provide them with sufficient support to achieve their goals.
“When you bring in a new commissioner, you are bringing in the brightest and most motivated people in the bunch who want to take on these initiatives, […but] over time all these initiatives pile up and snowball,” Satterthwaite said. “So, the spirit behind this motion and these amendments is really to better define the role and the scope of the commissioner portfolio within the PGSS, align commissioners with specific executive portfolios, and allow commissioners better access to PGSS resources.”
Equity Commissioner Tim Hadjis and Health Commissioner Freddy Lee were present at the meeting. They spoke in support of the motion and described its potential benefits.
“It’s about better streamlining information and resources so that we can accomplish our initiatives better at PGSS,” Hadjis said. “It’s not about taking away power, that’s not what they’re doing, it’s just facilitating the process of accomplishing initiatives at PGSS.”
According to PGSS External Affairs Officer Hocine Slimani, this motion was endorsed by both the PGSS Executive Committee and the commissioners as the best way to rectify the structural inefficiencies that led a number of commissioners to resign in 2017.
“What’s proposed here is what we think, as [commissioners and executives], is the best solution according to our current reality,” Slimani said. ”We think it is better than the current model because, in the last year, three commissioners left.”
Nonetheless, many graduate students present at the meeting did not support the motion, emphasizing that it could restrict commissioners. Among its detractors was Amir Nosrat, a graduate student with Desautels Doctoral Students.
“Commissioners are the first line of defence against the executives making mistakes and in actually holding the executive accountable to the policies and values that our membership has,” Nosrat said. “Executives are essentially hijacking the commissioners [….] This is to me is a motion that is all about concentrating power, it’s about concentrating authority, and it’s about reducing accountability.”
The motion failed to pass in council. However, the clause establishing a six hour work week for commissioners will be moving forward to the Governance Committee for approval.
“Unfortunately council did not approve of these changes [other than the six hour week], although they were endorsed and seen as very positive changes by Executives and Commissioners,” Satterthwaite wrote in a message to The McGill Tribune.