The Students’ Society of McGill University (SSMU) Board of Directors (BoD) convened on Jan. 6 with all directors present except the SSMU president, Darshan Daryanani, who has been on leave since at least Sept. 23. Directors heard vice-president (VP) University Affairs Claire Downie present a motion for SSMU to make an $8,000 purchase of respiratory N95 or KN95 masks which would be made available to students through SSMU. Details about the cost of each mask, and whether or not they will be free, is still to be decided amongst directors. Downie also introduced the idea of establishing a remote learning bursary for students in need of access to technology.
Surrounding this meeting was widespread student concern about SSMU’s inactivity regarding the president’s absence. In an email interview with The McGill Tribune, U3 Arts student Randall* said they believed SSMU’s inability to function as a support to students was due to the president’s absence from office.
“There are a lot of wonderful and talented people on the SSMU [Executive] this year, but they seem overburdened by the controversy surrounding the Society and the lack of a leading figure to help direct the organization’s efforts,” Randall wrote.
In early November, The McGill Daily investigated the president’s absence, and VP Internal Affairs Sarah Paulin asked the paper to discontinue their inquiries on the matter and to stop contacting SSMU employees. Randall argued that this, coupled with the fact that the Society has not acted to instate a new president, has had a negative impact on other student societies.
“SSMU’s inactivity over its recent controversies have forced the undergraduate societies to pick up their slack, for lack of a more polite way of putting it [….] Also, the lack of accountability [or] transparency is pretty frustrating, if not insulting at this point, to the students that SSMU claims to serve.”
In response to student concerns about SSMU’s inaction, Downie stated that SSMU executives have been able to work effectively despite the president’s leave. Downie also claimed that there is work being done behind the scenes to aid students, such as discussions about bulk-ordering COVID-19 rapid antigen tests—an initiative they ultimately decided against.
“The [SSMU] office opened back up on Monday, [Jan. 3],” Downie said in an interview with the Tribune. “There was a lot of work done over the break, but unfortunately a lot of it was just watching and waiting, because we don’t have answers from McGill.”
Yara Coussa, Legislative Council representative, showed support for Downie’s motion to make respiratory masks available for students to purchase in light of McGill’s current plan to return to in-person learning after Jan. 24. Coussa also suggested that SSMU cease buying respiratory masks if the student demand is not as high as expected.
Ultimately, the motion passed with six directors in favour and two directors against. Directors plan to discuss more details about the motion via email.
Moment of the meeting:
Downie asked speaker Alexandre Ashkir for a suspension of the Standing Rules for her motion on respiratory mask expenditures. During the ensuing debate, VP Finance Éric Sader argued the motion was being presented in a faulty manner with which he was not comfortable, and Sader stated he would rather flesh out the amount of masks they aim to buy rather than starting with a monetary amount.
“Everyone seems to know someone right now who doesn’t know where they got COVID […] and that anecdotally, whatever meaning anecdotal has, tells me that this is a good time to be proactive. If students are going to be going back into these crowded environments, […] it would be a good use of student money to help people access better safety equipment.”
— VP University Affairs Claire Downie on why McGill’s current distribution of surgical masks will, in her mind, not be sufficient for the return to classes after Jan. 24.
*Randall’s name has been changed to preserve their anonymity.