On April 7, 2016, the Students’ Society of McGill University (SSMU) Services Review Committee and the Board of Directors (BoD) prompted seven student groups to change their status within the SSMU structure. The Savoy Society, Elections SSMU, First Year Council, and the McGill International Student Network lost their status as independent student groups (ISG) and The Players Theatre, Organic Campus, and McGill Outdoors Club (MOC) gained ISG status.
In 2015, the previous SSMU Vice-President (VP) Clubs and Services Kimber Bialik–which has since been renamed the VP Student Life portfolio following executive restructuring in 2015-2016–reinstated the Services Review Committee for the first time since 2011. The committee evaluates whether listed services comply with the April 2016 modifications to the internal regulations of student groups.
The internal regulations of student groups specify that a service must provide resources and support to members while additionally providing referrals, awareness, education, or advocacy services. The final Services Review Report concluded that for various reasons outlined in the report, the five previously listed services did not meet the new requirements. On April 7, the SSMU Legislative Council ratified the committee’s recommendations to revoke these ISGs’ status.
The McGill International Student Network has since become a SSMU club, the First Year Council now falls under the portfolio of the SSMU VP Internal, and Elections SSMU is overseen by the SSMU General Manager. The Players Theatre and Organic Campus are transitioning into ISGs while SSMU is still considering the Savoy Society’s status, with plans to make it a programming department under the VP Student Life portfolio.
On May 24, the McGill Outdoors Club (MOC) had its club status revoked at a BoD meeting. Members of the Board believed that the size of the club made it better suited as an ISG. They worried that the MOC’s large transactions would look suspicious to auditors. In addition, the Board believed that the club’s activities posed risks to students not covered by SSMU’s liability insurance.
“Our internal regulations say that our clubs need to have bank accounts that are internally managed by SSMU,” Bialik said at the BoD meeting on May 24. “[The MOC has] their own external account that we know nothing about. They have their independent insurance policy. They manage property also. They have a lot going on. So they are already operating like an independent student group and this transition won’t change anything for them.”
According to MOC VP Communications Chris Mills, SSMU and the MOC had previously discussed the possibility of becoming an ISG, with inconclusive results. The BoD decision was made unilaterally and without the knowledge or consent of the MOC.
Mills said that the MOC has been actively appealing the decision, due to a long-term standing agreement with SSMU enabling the MOC to exist as a club while simultaneously owning a separate bank account.
“By their own constitution, ISGs have to be registered nonprofits,” Mills said. “You can’t take a club which doesn’t exist legally and turn it into an [ISG]. The club doesn’t have a legal standing outside of SSMU. [The 2015-2016] generation of executives did not necessarily appreciate all the differences between being a club and an ISG in terms of what it means for administrative and legal overhead.”
As an ISG, the MOC will have to register for legal status, file its own tax returns, and obtain necessary insurance. Mills explained that the added responsibilities associated with operating an ISG are a lot for a volunteer-run organization to undertake.
SSMU VP Finance Niall Carolan said that SSMU is willing to cooperate with the MOC with the possibility of reinstating its status as a SSMU club.
“Throughout this [academic] year we have been meeting with [the] MOC to try to find the best structure that works for them and that also works for SSMU,” Carolan said. “That may very well end up being a club. I am happy to keep them as a club as long as the support structure is there for them to succeed.”
SSMU VP Student Life Elaine Patterson plans to dedicate this year to assisting all transitioning student groups so that they will be more stable next year.
“The end goal would be to make sure that the groups transitioning into independent student groups status do become legally recognized by the province of Quebec as separate from SSMU,” Patterson said. “Then from there my goal is just to make sure that transition is as smooth as possible for these groups.”