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Students’ Society of McGill University (SSMU) Executive Midterm Reviews

News/Opinion/SSMU by
(Cordelia Cho / McGill Tribune)

Tre Mansdoerfer, President

Though the executive team faced a significant obstacle this year with the closure of the SSMU building, under Mansdoerfer’s leadership,  they have addressed this problem effectively by relocating clubs and securing a lease on 680 Sherbrooke for student use. His continued work on governance reform, a fall reading week, and the expansion of the Health and Dental plan show that Mansdoerfer has kept an eye to his major campaign promises. SSMU’s new partnership with Nimbus Tutoring and work on a new food security program demonstrate a willingness to engage in new projects on top of addressing pertinent issues. During the Fall, Mansdoerfer has proven his ability to problem-solve, facilitate projects across the society, and build an effective executive team.

Matthew McLaughlin, VP Internal Affairs

Matthew McLaughlin ran on an ambitious platform, which remains largely unfulfilled. The launch of a centralized calendar for McGill events, the first SSMU town hall, and bi-weekly video updates have all been scheduled for Winter 2019, suggesting that McLaughlin may have underestimated the complexity of these projects. Furthermore, addressing the fallout of the $10,000 transit mishap at SSMU’s Children of the Corn Halloween party has consumed time and money that could have been spent implementing campaign promises. However, McLaughlin has been successful in working with other SSMU representatives to create new event planning policies and oversight. He has also made his position’s programming more inclusive and accessible, coordinating activities such as the dry laser-tag event during Frosh Week, which drew 150 students. McLaughlin has also doubled the number of First-Year Council representatives, allowing them to host events more regularly.

Jun Wang, VP Finance

Jun Wang has focused on overseeing the bank transition from Scotiabank to RBC and increasing the financial literacy of club executives and students in the first half of his term. The bank transfer has consumed most of his time, forcing him to neglect other campaign promises such as socially-responsible and green investing, which Wang missed the opportunity to address following Senate’s motion to support divestment from fossil fuels.The bank transition means that all transactions will occur online, streamlining the process of distributing funds to clubs and allowing them easy access to their finances. Wang and club executives cited poor communication as the biggest challenge during the bank transition. Additionally,  clubs were unable to access their accounts during the ‘blackout’ period of the transition, leaving some without funds to hold events. The transition will be complete during the next VP Finance’s term. Wang is delivering on his campaign promise to increase students’ financial literacy by preparing a comprehensive document on SSMU’s finances that is accessible to all students. Wang expects this project to be ready next semester.

Jacob Shapiro, VP University Affairs

Jacob Shapiro campaigned on a platform of continuity, creativity, and community. Most notably, Shapiro has followed through on his promise to advocate for a revision of the S/U grading system, allowing students to switch their pass or fail mark to a letter grade later in the semester. Less successful was Shapiro’s overhaul of existing SSMU mechanisms such as abolishing the academic roundtable of faculty VP Academics which he replaced with one-on-one meetings. These changes have severely limited his bureaucratic capability and accessibility. In positioning himself as the centre of all academic affairs, he has hindered his own ability to act effectively. Despite Shapiro’s promises to prioritize existing UA projects, there has been little continuation of the previous VP UA Isabella Oke’s projects such as the Know Your Rights campaign. Next term, Shapiro should focus on advocating for students’ academic rights with initiatives like his efforts concerning the S/U mandate.

Sophia Esterle, VP Student Life

As VP Student Life, Esterle’s portfolio includes coordinating student clubs and services, arranging family care programs, and promoting mental health outreach. Esterle remains committed to her campaign promise of promoting mental wellness on campus: In collaboration with SSMU Mental Health, Esterle organized SSMU’s second annual Mental Illness Awareness Week and has attempted to extend additional support to students living in residence through initiatives such as Draw & Discuss, which she hosted in collaboration with Rez Life. Additionally, she organized a successful Fall Activities Night, at the Tomlinson Fieldhouse and drew record attendance. Esterle’s most significant accomplishment has been handling the additional responsibility of overseeing club relocation during the SSMU building closure. Under her leadership, university groups have been relocated to spaces near the Downtown campus and in academic buildings.

 

SSMU supports motion for gun control in Canada

News/SSMU by
(Helen Wu / The McGill Tribune)

The Students’ Society of McGill University (SSMU) Legislative Council convened on Nov. 29 for their last meeting of 2018. They debated a new motion to support Bill C-71, which was introduced by Canada’s Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale to reduce gun violence across Canada. Chip Smith, a member of the Accountability Committee, also presented evaluations of the SSMU Executives and Councillors’ performances for the Fall 2018 semester.

Motion Regarding SSMU’s Position on Gun Control in Canada

The Liberal party of Canada is poised to pass Bill C-71, which is currently under review at the Canadian Senate. The bill will tighten laws on firearms by improving background checks and implementing mandatory record-keeping by firearms retailers. SSMU Vice-President (VP) Student Life Sophia Esterle had drafted a motion to endorse the bill and lobby Canadian Senators, Members of Parliament, and the Minister of Public Safety of Canada for better gun control. As Esterle was not present, however, Arts Representative Ana Paula Sánchez explained the motion to council.

“Essentially, what the motion is trying to do is have SSMU endorse [Bill C-71] and help in a letter-writing campaign to advocate for a national ban on civilian ownership of handguns,” Sánchez said.

Arts Representative Andrew Figueiredo argued during the debate period that banning handguns will not be the solution to gun violence.

“First of all, hand guns can be used for hunting […and], moreover, for self-protection,” Figueiredo said. “In rural areas, it takes up to 45 minutes for RCMP to actually get to your door [….] In the city of Toronto, 50 per cent of guns used illegally […] are imported from the United States. Maybe invest in border security, because, clearly, banning guns is not the solution in this case.”

Management Representative Brooke Callaghan was critical of Figueiredo’s argument.

“Any measures should […] be taken to prevent the use of guns in in any way, shape, or form in this country and in all countries,” Callaghan said. “Guns are used for violence, period. They are a killing machine […] Whether you are killing an animal or person, [guns are] meant to cause harm [to] another being.”

The motion was passed with 26 in favour, 2 opposed, and no abstentions.

Fall 2018 Accountability Committee Report

The Accountability Committee is mandated to ensure that Officers, Senators, Directors, and Councillors fulfill their obligations and responsibilities. In this semester’s assessment, the SSMU Executives collectively received a grade of ‘A’ or ‘A-’ on each criteria. Each executive also received a specific evaluation to which they had the opportunity to respond. Among the most heavily criticized for delays in their work were VP Finance Jun Wang and VP Internal Matthew McLaughlin.

Wang admitted that the effort of transitioning club banking has taken a toll on his mental health.

“My predecessors never had to deal with this many constituents at once,” Wang said. “And it [becomes] a mental pressure point when I have to deal with not just departmental executives […] but also SSMU club members as well [….The club bank transition is] probably [my] biggest project, and it [has] been very difficult to keep [under control] without impacting the other executives.”

McLaughlin explained that the two-and-a-half-month delay in hiring a Francophone Affairs Commissioner was due to its impromptu addition to his portfolio as a result of VP External Marina Cupido’s resignation. He reported to council that a commissioner was found on Nov. 29.

“This was under the External portfolio until Marina’s resignation, and then it was under my portfolio,” McLaughlin said. “As soon as I got this part of my portfolio [assigned], I launched the job application for the Francophone Affairs Commissioner and the application for the Francophone Affairs Committee. We [have found a commissioner but] only received one application to the committee so far, so I reopened that today to get more applicants.”

Legislative Council will reconvene on Jan. 10.

SSMU’s great bank switch

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(Amanda Fiore / The McGill Tribune)

As part of a massive financial overhaul, the Students’ Society of McGill University (SSMU) is currently switching from ScotiaBank to the Royal Bank of Canada (RBC). SSMU was one of ScotiaBank’s biggest customers with over 230 accounts.

“We’re one of the only student unions that gives this many clubs this many bank accounts,” SSMU Vice-President (VP) Finance Jun Wang said. “[ScotiaBank and RBC] have never encountered a client with this many sub-accounts.”

The original ScotiaBank contract was drawn up in 1992 and has not been updated since. Wang blames it for creating communication issues, confusion, and red tape for SSMU clubs, which motivated the switch. According to him, a particular difficulty was that clubs had to communicate with both SSMU and ScotiaBank to receive funding. This made tracking requests for funding and club purchases unnecessarily convoluted.

Preparations for the switch have been ongoing for some time. Last year, former VP Finance Arisha Khan and her substitute, former VP Finance Esteban Herpin, proposed to transition SSMU accounts from ScotiaBank to RBC. Over the summer, Jun Wang, along with ScotiaBank staff, RBC bankers, and a handful of SSMU staff, began cataloguing SSMU club accounts, some of which existed only on paper. In the process they temporarily shut down inactive accounts for the summer and moved each account to RBC. The team also created customized software for SSMU, eliminating any need for mediators and making online banking for clubs simple and more accessible.

Wang trained club executives in the new system through eight workshops at the start of the school year. Communication issues between clubs and himself, lack of space, and limited personnel means that some clubs are still straggling behind, but the switch is still on track to be completed by next semester.

Wang is confident that the financial overhaul will simplify and strengthen the funding process. Clubs will be able to receive money from SSMU through direct deposits without needing to contact RBC, creating a trackable funding system.

This process requires clubs to assume complete financial responsibility. With the ScotiaBank system, confusion and clutter meant clubs were not made fully aware of guidelines, creating further problems for SSMU. Wang hopes that transforming the way in which clubs receive funds will make the banking system more approachable.

“This bank transfer legitimizes the [funding] process and makes sure clubs take banking more seriously,” Wang said. “[Access to bank accounts is] a big privilege that we are extending.”

Over the past few weeks, all SSMU funding underwent a ‘blackout’ period while accounts switched from ScotiaBank to RBC. Eva Ren, a SSMU funding commissioner, works directly with clubs to approve funds.

“All student groups that have been approved for funding cannot receive their funds until after the freeze,” Ren said.

F WORD, a McGill feminist multimedia magazine, needed funds for its launch party on Nov. 15. According to Judy Huang, an F WORD coordinator, the launch coincided with the blackout period.

F WORD was able to work with both SSMU, and our printer to pay the printing cost through SSMU, which was great as it is the largest expense of the semester.” Huang said.  “The SSMU executives were helpful and definitely solved the printing issue. But, otherwise, all costs were paid out of our own pockets [as] we wait for our funds to be accessible again.”

According to Wang, when funds become available again next semester, clubs that were affected by the blackout will be refunded.

Wang plans to see the bank transfer through, even with the unforeseen complications that cropped up during the process. To help future VP Finance executives continue the transfer smoothly, he plans to refine and document each step during his term.

“Hopefully, out of this will come something a lot better,” Wang said. “Moving forward, we’ll have institutional memory so that the next VP Finance knows exactly what to do instead of creating a process from scratch.”

Constitutional challenge contested in judicial hearing

McGill/News/SSMU by
(Kyle Dewsnap / The McGill Tribune)

The Student Society of McGill University’s (SSMU) Judicial Board (J-Board) held a hearing on Nov. 20 to determine if the Anti-Violence Fee Levy (AVFL) motion was constitutional. The AVFL passed referendum on Nov. 12 with 79.4 per cent of students in favour of the creation of the new fee, which would fund the implementation of the Gendered and Sexual Violence Policy (GSVP). Arts and Science Senator Bryan Buraga, the SSMU representative who referred the matter to the J-Board’s authority, firmly set the stakes for the hearing in his opening statement.

“[This petition] is a case of sexual violence,” Buraga said.  “This will set a [precedent] for survivors.”

Buraga argued that the AVFL passed with an insufficient number of movers, or individuals supporting the motion. The Internal Regulations of Elections and Referenda (IR-ER) requires referendum questions to have at least four movers before being approved by the SSMU Legislative Council; the AVFL only had three when it passed. Buraga also claimed that the SSMU executives showed poor judgement when they did not immediately allocate funding for the GSVP. He asserted that SSMU has the capital to pay for it given that, following last month’s Children of the Corn Halloween event, SSMU expects to reimburse students $10,000 in Uber fares after they were unable to provide transportation back from Macdonald Campus.

“SSMU has found funding for other ad-hoc expenses,” Buraga said “The VP Internal said that SSMU priotisizes safety over cost, but the executive has demonstrated the opposite.”

Although he was listed as a respondent on Buraga’s petition, SSMU Vice-President (VP) Finance Jun Wang was absent from the hearing. Wang, who is responsible for financing the GSVP, stated that he didn’t believe that his presence at the hearing was warranted.

[My absence] is a statement to be made to the filer of the petition to say how much I don’t believe that this is a matter of constitutionality, but rather [Buraga] is just trying to strike down this fee,” Wang said. “I believe that most people will understand that, with the building closure, the budget is not there and that we’re running at a deficit. If I were to attend the hearing, I would just be repeating that.”

SSMU President Tre Mansdoerfer argued that Buraga has overlooked a contradiction in SSMU policy. The Internal Regulations of Governance (IR-G) state that the Standing Rules determine the number of movers a motion needs to pass: Currently, at least three movers are required. In cases where internal regulations contradict each other, the rules within the IR-G take precedence over the IR-ER.

“Main motions require a minimum of three (3) movers to be presented before Council,” the Standing Rules read.

Buraga replied that there is no contradiction between the IR-ER requiring four movers and the IR-G requiring three. He reasoned that the IR-G only claims that it is necessary to have at least three movers, not that having at least three movers is sufficient, leaving room for additional requirements.

In response to Buraga’s accusation of poor judgement, Loïc Welch, a law student at McGill who represented Mansdoerfer at the hearing, argued that the executive has acted in a manner that assures SSMU student security.

“The President and the executive clearly acted within their standards of care,” Welch said. “They quickly moved the AVFL through SSMU in order to fund the GSVP.”

Buraga, who detailed his own experience with sexual violence in a Letter to the Editor of The McGill Tribune, closed his statement with an impassioned plea to the justices.

“There is an immediate crisis of funding […] and, as a result, I have not been able to get the protection I need,” Buraga said. “No student should have to stand here and go through this.”

Chief Justice Georgina Hartono announced that the J-Board will have two weeks to deliberate.  A written judgement will be submitted to the Board of Directors on Dec. 4, and the Board will either affirm, issue an order for amendment, or deny the judgement.

SSMU Legislative Council discusses quorum and grades

McGill/News/SSMU by
(Katia Innes / The McGill Tribune)

The Student’s Society of McGill University (SSMU) Legislative Council convened on Nov. 1 to discuss the upcoming referendum and the Satisfactory/Unsatisfactory (S/U) grading option. The Council also approved the May 31, 2018 fiscal year end report by Fuller-Landau, the accounting firm that audits SSMU’s finances, and called for a more concerted effort to livestream the Council meetings. In regard to the upcoming referendum, which will take place Nov. 9-12, the Council approved the motion on discretionary funding for the Sexual Assault Center of the McGill Students’ Society (SACOMSS) and changes made to the Environment and Anti-Violence Fees.

Council also discussed last month’s Children of the Corn party, for which SSMU had to spend an additional $10,000 to cover the cost of transportation when six of the seven buses they chartered failed to provide return trips downtown. The buses claimed that students had violated their policies by drinking, smoking, and vomiting on board. Currently, Vice-President (VP) Internal Matthew McLaughlin is looking into reimbursing students for their personal transportation costs.

“The last possible option for transportation was to have students order taxis or take Ubers to get back home and have SSMU members pay for that,” McLaughlin said. “So, that’s what ended up happening [….] It’s tragic because of the expense, but we’ve launched a portal [….] So far we’ve had 79 requests total.”

 

Late motion regarding reduction of GA quorum postponed

SSMU President Tre Mansdoefer submitted a motion to reduce quorum of the General Assembly (GA) from 350 to 150 after the Fall 2018 GA on Oct. 29 had only 49 students in attendance.

“I do not like it being 150, I want to figure out other ways to do this,” Mansdoefer said. “[But] I do not feel like we have another choice.”

Arts Representative Andrew Figueiredo critiqued the motion as unjust and pointed out that Mansdoefer had submitted it late, not giving students enough time to contemplate it.

“0.75 per cent of the student body, less than that, actually, shouldn’t be able to dictate the direction of [SSMU],” Figueiredo said. “I think that is fundamentally undemocratic. This is an abomination to bring something up with this much gravity and to try and rush it onto the November ballot doesn’t give people the chance to organize ‘No’ campaigns or ‘Yes’ campaigns on this.”

The motion was postponed indefinitely by Arts Councillor Ana Paula Sanchez.

 

VP University Affairs (UA) motion advocates for S/U grading option  

Upholding his platform promise, VP University Affairs Jacob Shapiro proposed the Motion Regarding VP UA Mandate to Advocate for S/U Grading Option. In the motion, Shapiro asks that SSMU approve his mandate to lobby for students to be given the option to switch to a letter grade in their S/U courses. Shapiro reasoned that the S/U system would continue to encourage students to venture out of their comfort zones, with the possibility of a letter grade also incentivizing them to do well.

“It kind of gives people a fail-safe,” Shapiro said. “If more are taking classes pass-fail, more people can deprioritize the course if they’re [having] a rough or rocky semester, and I think a lot of students would appreciate the value of taking a class pass-fail.”

Senate Caucus Representative Andre Lametti disagreed with Shapiro’s reasoning.

“For me, I believe that motivation to get an A is not the only motivation to take a course,” Lametti said. “If you have the option to change an S/U option into an A […], the motivation to get the grade might still exist. I enjoyed taking courses with the S/U option, and I think that removing the [pre-existing] S/U option removes this and is bad for educational standards, and goes against [the] VP University Affairs Mandate.”

Ultimately, the motion passed with 17 in favour, four opposed, and four abstentions.

Council will reconvene on Nov. 15 in McConnell Engineering 603.

SSMU Legislative Council address resignation of VP External

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(Nina Russell / The McGill Tribune)

The Students’ Society of McGill University (SSMU) Legislative Council met on Oct. 18 to address the resignation of the SSMU vice president (VP) external, Marina Cupido. Cupido resigned on Oct. 10 due to mental health concerns partially stemming from the heavy workload of the position. The position itself also fell under scrutiny, as the council discussed the appropriate use of executive social media platforms. The discussion was following Cupido’s controversial Facebook post on Oct. 2, which condemned the newly-elected Coalition Avenir Quebec (CAQ). Meeting lengths and the restructuring of SSMU’s fees were also up for debate.

Motion Regarding Responsible Representation

McGill Arts and Science Senator Bryan Buraga introduced a Motion Regarding Responsible Representation in response to Cupido’s now-deleted post. In the post, which was retracted on Oct. 11, Cupido criticized the CAQ’s “xenophobic, far-right” policies and discussed their implications for students at McGill. The motion, which was tabled at the previous Legislative Council meeting, recommended that SSMU remove the Facebook post and apologize. It also outlined steps for preventing and addressing such instances in the future. Under the motion, operators of SSMU social media accounts would have to ensure that social media posts represent the consensus of the Legislative Council or the Executive Committee, rather than just being matters of personal opinion.

Arts Representative Andrew Figueiredo asserted the importance of the motion in ensuring that the student body’s opinions are represented in student government.

“I think this motion requires that SSMU takes certain steps to be sure that its […] opinions are actually reflecting what is being said by the people who are in SSMU,” Figueiredo said. “I think that this doesn’t encumber [SSMU external communications] in any way, it just makes sure that our voices are being heard [….] It’s a motion that’s made from a place of wanting our student government to represent students, and I think that’s the least we can ask for.”

Vincent Mousseau, stand-in for the Social Work Representative, raised concerns that the motion would negatively impact SSMU’s ability to condemn oppressive policies and protect marginalized students.

“I feel like it’s very irresponsible to have a motion that’s going to stifle the expression of elected members of this student union,” Mousseau said. “We know [which policies will negatively affect our students], and we need to be naming them. We need to be critiquing them, and not just putting out [vaguely] worded statements that give some semblance that we’re willing to critique and [instead] actually [do] something concrete to stand up for our students. And in a larger sense, I think it’s important to understand the way that an amendment like this would appear to marginalized students, who are in need of [our support].”

Following an hour-and-a-half–long debate, the council voted against the motion, with 13 opposed, 10 in favour, and three abstentions.

Generative Discussion on VP External Position

The council discussed how to address the vacant VP External position. SSMU President Tre Mansdoerfer announced the SSMU executive board’s plan to redistribute the position’s duties among existing commissioners. While the idea of holding a by-election was mentioned, council decided that a new VP seven months into the year might not be cohesive with the team.

“We will not be running a by-election for the VP External role, [and, instead], we will be creating new student staff positions for the External portfolio to cover previous projects that were previously under the responsibility of the Vice President,” Mansdoerfer said. “As such, we will create a Francophone Affairs Commissioner position, a Sexual Violence Mobilization Advocacy Commissioner, [and] we will be doubling the hours of certain commissioners.”

Though some raised concerns regarding the increased workload for these commissioners, Mansdoerfer stated that a three-person advisory board would be established to offer institutional support and advice on matters specific to the role.

The next SSMU Legislative Council meeting will be held on Nov. 1 in McConnell Engineering Room 603.

SSMU Legislative Council debates a fee levy for a gendered and sexual violence policy

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(Helen Wu / The McGill Tribune)

The Students’ Society of McGill University (SSMU) Legislative Council convened on Oct. 11 to discuss the implementation of a Gendered and Sexual Violence Policy (GSVP) and the renaming of McGill’s Men’s Varsity Teams. Before the debate on the two primary motions, President Tre Mansdoerfer announced the resignation of vice-president (VP) External Marina Cupido.

“We are all very sad to see Marina resign from [their] position [as] VP External,” Mansdoerfer said. “We worked with [them] on a statement released yesterday [Oct. 10] by SSMU. Currently, we are working on how to [replace] the VP External. [At] the next council, we’ll have a proposal or some sort of discussion on what we plan to do.”

 

Implementation of a Gendered and Sexual Violence Policy (GSVP) and a fee levy

The resignation of two SSMU executives during the 2016-17 academic year following allegations of sexual violence necessitated the Gendered and Sexual Violence Policy (GSVP). The motion for an Anti-Violence Fee calls for an opt-outable fee levy of $0.45 on McGill students to fund the salaries of two Anti-Violence Coordinators, administrative costs, and an Anti-Violence Fund for projects against sexual violence. Anti-Violence Coordinators will be responsible for referring individuals to relevant support resources and conducting investigations into all reported cases.

Bee Khaleeli, SSMU’s GSVP implementation coordinator, presented their work and shared their opinion on the funding.

“Ethically, I don’t think that it should be the case that students should be paying extra money to be safe from their student union,” Khaleeli said. “I think it is preposterous and unacceptable. I would strongly prefer that SSMU were able to fund this on its own budget and SSMU consistently allocated money to sexual violence prevention efforts.”

During the debate on the policy’s funding, SSMU VP Finance Jun Wang argued that the SSMU’s budget is unable to fund the GSVP.

“I would have to cut a portion of the budget, and I don’t think it’s fair,” Wang said. “I can’t say that the GSVP is more important than Indigenous Affairs or Sustainability [….Regardless] the reason why it cannot come out of the operating budget is because the budget has already been approved by [the] previous Council. As long as the money does not fall in [a] category we voted on, we cannot allocate that money elsewhere. Therefore, the GSVP cannot be financed against any part of the budget.”

Arts and Sciences Senator Bryan Buraga insisted that the SSMU must prioritize this policy.

“It’s important to recognize that, if SSMU finds it a priority, they will find the necessary funding for it,” Buraga said. “I think that whenever we tell students they have to pay extra to be safe, it shows that we don’t prioritize these services.”

The motion for an Anti-Violence Fee levy passed with 22 votes in favour, three in opposition, and no abstentions.

 

Renaming McGill’s Men’s Varsity Teams

The name of McGill’s men’s varsity sports teams—Redmen—has drawn criticism in the past decade for the word’s historical use as a derogatory term for Indigenous peoples. Others have argued that the name has been reclaimed by the athletic teams.

“The historical roots of the teams, according to McGill Athletics, holds no association to [Indigenous peoples],”  First-Year Council Representative Robert Hu said. “It is the misrepresented history of the name, and not the name itself, that creates confusion and offence.”

Social Work Councillor Zach Kleiner responded to Hu’s comments by urging the council to protect the Indigenous students at McGill.

“I don’t think it’s up to us say whether Indigenous students are offended by a racial slur,” Kleiner said. “I see that a lot of people in this room are white, and a lot of people in this room are not Indigenous, so I don’t think we have the duty to ourselves as SSMU to vote on anything but protecting the Indigenous students.”

The motion carried with 24 votes in favour, one in opposition, and two abstentions.

SSMU Legislative Council will meet again on Oct. 18.

SSMU VP External Marina Cupido resigns

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(Audrey Carleton / The McGill Tribune)

The executive board of the Students’ Society of McGill University (SSMU) is one member short as of Wednesday. On Oct. 10, SSMU announced the resignation of vice-president (VP) External Marina Cupido in a statement emailed to SSMU members by VP Internal Matthew McLaughlin, which cited mental health concerns as the cause of Cupido’s resignation. The statement, also posted on the SSMU website and signed by Cupido and the remaining members of the SSMU executive committee, included plans to address the vacancy of the position at an Oct. 18 Legislative Council meeting.

In an interview with The McGill Tribune, Cupido confirmed that their decision to resign arose from the unhealthy strain of the position’s workload.

“Being in this job literally became a threat to my physical, emotional, and psychological wellbeing,” Cupido said. “A large part of that is because this job is ridiculous [….] There need to be structural changes at SSMU that, among many other things, make it possible to be a VP, to be an executive and [to] be healthy, and have a life beyond work.”

At the SSMU Legislative Council meeting on Oct. 11, SSMU President Tre Mansdoerfer expressed regret at Cupido’s resignation and assured council members that a proposal on how to respond to the resignation was forthcoming.

Cupido became involved in controversy after publishing a post on the SSMU VP External Affairs Facebook page on Oct. 2 which described the recently-elected Coalition Avenir Québec (CAQ) government as ‘racist’ and ‘xenophobic.’ Although SSMU issued a statement on Oct. 11 reaffirming the sentiment, but apologizing for the language of Cupido’s post, Cupido told the Tribune that they did not regret publishing it.

“If I were writing a political science paper about the CAQ, I would describe it with a lot of the same language but also with more nuance,” Cupido said. “But I wasn’t [….] I honestly don’t regret posting that, I think that it was the right thing to do, I think it was called for and appropriate and basically fair. And I wish that SSMU was an institution where that was the norm.”

While Cupido is the first SSMU executive to resign this academic year, two executives, VP Finance and VP Operations and Sustainability, resigned during the prior academic year. In an email to the Tribune, McLaughlin concurred with Cupido’s statements regarding the strenuous workload of SSMU VPs and said that he hoped McGill students would be sympathetic given the body’s history of resignations.

“The sad reality is that executive resignations have become a staple of a typical year,” McLaughlin wrote. “As much as some people might think that resignations are often the result of politics and interpersonal issues, the reality is that executive roles are practically designed to cause resignations; the positions inexorably lead to burnout and issues of both mental and physical health. It’s easy to pass judgment and point fingers, but I’d encourage students to consider that executives are people, too.”

Cupido argued that the position of VP External would be easier to manage if the SSMU student positions under the External Affairs portfolio were expanded.

“To varying degrees, none of the student staff have enough hours,” Cupido said. “The VP External job has a lot of very disparate parts and having more of a team running those projects would be better [….] A [good] place to start would really be investing more in the team that does this job.”

Student committee to advocate for fall reading week

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(Arshaaq Jiffry / The McGill Tribune)

The first major steps are underway for the implementation of a fall reading week and a restructuring of the Student’s Society of McGill University (SSMU) Board of Directors. Following the 2018 SSMU Winter Referendum, in which over 96 per cent of electors voted in favour of a fall reading week, conversations have begun at the administrative and student level with the creation of an ad hoc Fall Reading Break Committee and a subcommittee under the Enrolment and Student Affairs Advisory Committee (ESAC).

Among the leaders of the reading week committee is McGill Arts and Science Senator Bryan Buraga, who researched the implementation of a fall reading week last year. He sees more potential in this year’s effort compared to SSMU’s attempts in 2015, which were sparked by a motion endorsing a fall reading week.

“[Campaigning in] 2015 was focused more on administrators and deans as far as I am aware,” Buraga said. “It is different now because there is a new Deputy Provost of Student Life and Learning who is open to hearing student concerns, and that is a huge leap from where we were last year.”

According to Fabrice Labeau, McGill’s interim deputy provost of Student Life and Learning, obstacles to a fall reading week encountered during the 2015 discussions still need solutions. Scheduling a fall reading week could mean having to compact the final exam schedule or start the term before Labour Day, which could leave some students having to pay an additional month’s rent.  

“There is the question of when […] we make up for the time during the semester that will be taken up by this fall reading break,” Labeau said. “Some faculties, like Engineering and Medicine, have accreditation requirements that involve a certain number of contact hours. So, whenever you lose a day, you need to add a day to the semester either at the end or before the usual beginning of the semester.”

Buraga intends for the Fall Reading Week Committee to split into two working groups, one of which will lobby and negotiate with McGill administration while the other group collects data and researches the needs of the student body.

“I think it’s going to be important to listen to the needs of all students,” Buraga said. “It’s going to be a balancing act, for sure, because [while] we cannot please everybody, […] we need to get a large majority of students to agree that we are okay with Saturday exams or we are okay with starting earlier before Labour Day or some sort of compromise.”

Buraga remains optimistic about the implementation of a fall reading week at McGill.

“Before the 1990s, there was not a winter reading break,” Buraga said. “It was a student-led initiative to get a winter reading break. With that precedent in mind, it is definitely very possible that we may get [a fall reading week].”

The SSMU Board of Directors could also face major changes within the next couple of years. SSMU President Tre Mansdoerfer has taken action to examine the structure of the board and address what he argues are systematic weaknesses. According to Mansdoerfer, the board, which consists of five members at large, three councillors, and four executives, is easily exploited by members with strong political ideologies.

“You have people of similar political ideologies on the board with an intent to express their political ideologies on a board issue,” Mansdoerfer said.

According to Mansdoerfer, an ideal board would see the council representatives and members-at-large replaced by academic representatives from every faculty.

“The [concerns of the] board should be financial, legal, [and] operational and the current structure doesn’t really reflect that,” Mansdoerfer said. “We can have faculty presidents where stakeholders from every single group [will be] on the board deciding the financial operational decisions for McGill students. [….The proposed reforms are] really trying to make sure the board is what it should be, looking [out] for the best interests of students.”

SSMU motion on far-right postponed

News/SSMU by
(Gabriel Helfant / The McGill Tribune)

The Students’ Society of McGill University (SSMU) Legislative Council convened on Sept. 27, during which councillors Bryan Buraga, Mu Rong Yang, Garima Karia, and Andrew Figueiredo were nominated to the Board of Directors (BoD). The Legislative Council also approved a motion to prohibit the Vice-President (VP) Internal from becoming intoxicated at events and event organizers from spending SSMU funds on personal drinks.

 

In more routine matters, the Council renewed the motion designating affiliated clubs as SSMU’s highest priority and confirmed the membership of the health and dental care review committee. It also discussed a policy defining SSMU’s stance toward far-right groups and a motion addressing the lack of student participation in SSMU politics.

Motion regarding far-right groups postponed indefinitely

Council members voted to indefinitely postpone the Motion to Adopt a Policy Against Affiliation with Far Right Groups, which would forbid individuals or clubs affiliated with far-right groups from being directly involved with SSMU. During the discussion period, VP External Marina Cupido defended this move, stating that the policy in its current form was not yet ready to be submitted to the Legislative Council. Cupido will submit a revised motion in the near future.

 

“This is a very nuanced issue, and I think that there are a lot of concerns that need to be taken into account when trying to fight the far-right on our university campus, or anywhere really,” Cupido said. “I think that the […] draft that was brought up last year is a good start, but […] I don’t think it is adequate, frankly [….] I would like to see something better and more thorough, and I would like to have the time to put that together.”

 

The vote was initially proposed by the outgoing 2017-18 SSMU Legislative Council at the Apr. 5 council meeting, during which councillors voted to postpone discussion to the second meeting of the 2018-19 council. Despite this delay, Cupido expressed their commitment to preparing a policy in the coming months to address the presence of far-right groups on campus.

 

“I want to get this done by the end of October, so I really don’t want to drag [it] out,” Cupido said.

Council unanimously passes motion regarding student governance

 

Council members unanimously voted in favour of the Motion for Special Emphasis to be Placed on Greater Engagement with Student Governance. The policy, which will establish an ad hoc committee to undertake a comprehensive governance review, is an attempt to address student apathy toward and subsequent distrust of SSMU. These feelings have resulted in low voter participation in SSMU elections, including in the 2018 Winter Election, where only 32.8 per cent of the student body voted. This was the highest voter turnout in 14 years.

 

“The terms of reference engage in a serious attempt to address a longstanding problem,” VP University Affairs Jacob Shapiro said. “It’s a problem that traditionally has been addressed in ad hoc manners. I hope that this indicates a more sustained effort. Ultimately, we’ll be judged by the actions of this committee and not by words or bad raps.”

 

During the discussion period, Senate Caucus Representative Bryan Buraga expressed optimism that the policy would improve student perceptions of SSMU.

 

“I think this is a fantastic step in the right direction for reforming our society and making sure we re-engage our members, and [making] sure that they have faith in this institution that can do so much great work,” Buraga said.

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