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SSMU considers switching to kegs for on-campus events

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The Students’ Society is looking into the possibility of substituting kegs for bottles at campus events such as Frosh and OAP. SSMU President Zach Newburgh said that the recently proposed alternative has several benefits over the use of beer bottles, including sustainability, safety, and ease of use.

“By using kegs we are avoiding the process of having to use bottles,” Newburgh said. “They get thrown away and are unfortunately not reusable in the same way. Kegs hold a lot more and the containers in which they are supplied cut down on the transportation cost and the recycling reusability.”  

Switching to kegs will also  make transportation easier and therefore improve safety standards, he said, since their use minimizes the potential for an accident, and therefore the chances of students getting cut or injured.

“We’ve been using bottles for years and it’s been extremely difficult to transport them,” he added. “It has been a safety issue, [and] people have reported injuries. It isn’t as effective as the better alternative that it is offered by the keg.”

Furthermore, the aesthetic benefits stemming from keeping liquid in a single container behind a serving location rather than out in the open makes kegs an appealing option.

“It just simply does not look good on the part of the university to have a pile of empty beer bottles sitting on campus, or to have empty beer bottles scattered across Lower Field,” Newburgh said.

Even though switching from beer bottles is arguably beneficial to the university community, the decision will not be finalized until SSMU receives the university’s approval.

SSMU has determined that the operation of kegs on campus is in accordance with Quebec law as long as the university grants permission for it to do so. McGill has stated that it is receptive to SSMU using kegs as long as such use is legal.

“We raised this point at the Advisory Committee on Alcohol Policy and further to that we have been speaking with legal services and the deputy provost (student life and learning) on this issue,” Newburgh said.

SSMU is in the process of getting the university’s approval, and hopes that by OAP in April the policy will be finalized and implemented.

SSMU will support campus food boycott

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In an effort to pressure the McGill administration to reopen the Architecture Café, the McGill Students’ Society Council voted to support a student boycott of McGill Food and Dining Services at its meeting on Thursday, despite the vocal opposition of several councillors.

The motion, brought to council by Arts Senator Tyler Lawson and Arts Representative Kallee Lins, represents the most direct attempt to engage students in SSMU’s efforts to convince administrators to reconsider McGill’s summertime decision to close the popular student-managed café.

Erin Hale, a former McGill Daily editor, first proposed the idea for a campus-wide boycott of Food and Dining Services shortly after the September 21 rally outside the Leacok Building, where of hundreds of students gathered in support of reopening the café. Hale started a Facebook event urging students to boycott all McGill Food Services, which had more than 3,000 members at press time.

Lawson and Lins proposed the motion after seeing the groundswell of student support for the boycott. According to Lawson, the motion commits SSMU to supporting the boycott until McGill releases the financial data showing that the café was losing money—a major point of contention for Architecture students, who have claimed that the café was in the black—and agree to discuss reopening the café. The motion exempts students with prepaid meal plans, however, as well as first-year students in residence.

“The point is to try and get some consultation on the issue,” Lawson said.

However, several councillors declined to support the motion on Thursday, with four dissenting and five abstaining, with the latter group including SSMU President Zach Newburgh. One of the most vocal councillors who opposed the motion was Lauren Hudak, a Science representative to SSMU and an occasional Tribune contributor.

“I felt that we could do something more constructive, more positive, in trying to get the administration to listen to the demands of students,” Hudak said.

Along with other councillors, Hudak argued that passing a motion supporting the boycott did not address students’ frustrations with the administration, which contracts out the management of food outlets on campus to Aramark, an outside company.

“I think by placing the pressure on McGill Food and Dining Services, we’re moving away from the original reasons students were upset that the Architecture Café closed,” she said.

Other student associations on campus have echoed Hudak’s concerns. The Management Undergraduate Society discussed passing a motion in support of the boycott at a meeting on September 26, but ultimately decided against it.

The MUS, said Eli Freedman, Management representative to SSMU, decided to not to take a stance in the fight over the Architecture Café, which few Management students patronized. In addition, the MUS feared damaging its relationship with Sinfully Asian, the popular eatery in the Bronfman Building.

“To be honest, I don’t know how many people in Management are that concerned and are participating in the boycott,” Freedman said, though he added he was personally supporting the boycott.

The Engineering Undergraduate Society also decided against endorsing the boycott at a meeting on September 29, instead leaving the decision of whether or not to boycott up to its members.

“We wanted the debate to stay centred on the lack of support for student initiatives, the lack of consultation with students,” said EUS President Daniel Keresteci.

Though the boycott will not affect the McGill administration directly, Newburgh said he hopes the indirect pressure on the university will convince administrators to reopen the café.

“Because this will affect Aramark’s sales,” he said, “which are unrelated to any kind of profit that would be received by the university, Aramark will then have some kind of incentive to approach the university and say, ‘Listen, it’s time to reconsider the closure of the Architecture Café.'”

SSMU is currently exploring several options for promoting the boycott, Newburgh said, including Facebook and the listserv emails. All six SSMU executives have been boycotting Food and Dining Services since the motion passed.

Along with representatives from other campus groups, including the EUS and the Architecture Students Association, Newburgh said SSMU has been planning additional events to protest the Architecture Café’s closure. A potluck outside the Macdonald-Harrington Building, which housed the café, is planned for the near future. Newburgh also intends to bring up the issue at the next senate meeting.

“I am confident that the university will hear us,” Newburgh added, “and that they will respond positively and constructively.”

SSMU REPORT CARDS: ALEX BROWN – VP Internal

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The Tribune applauds Alex Brown for her work with the VP Internal portfolio this year. Brown has been consistently visible and knowledgeable on Students’ Society projects and events since September.

Frosh is always a major undertaking for the vice-president internal, and Brown handled the year’s opening event successfully, generating profits to support other SSMU endeavors.

She has also been innovative and receptive to recommendations with her event planning. Brown made the difficult decision to cancel SnowAP, an event that likely would have lost SSMU over $15,000. In its place, Brown held the inaugural Week 101 in Gert’s, a successful replacement that generated profit for SSMU.

In addition to the SSMU mainstays, Brown sought out creative ways to utilize her portfolio, particularly with the leftover funds that would have gone toward SnowAP. This included smaller events such as the first – and hopefully annual – SSMU Iron Chef cooking competition, and a SSMU-subsidized ice skating outing in the Old Port, not to mention the sold-out Girl Talk concert at Metropolis.

Finally, not being one to slow down as the year comes to a close, Brown recently booked Salman Rushdie to speak to McGill students on Friday.

One criticism of Brown’s year was her lack of engagement with Athletics, an area that past VP internals have done better work in.

In Council sessions, Brown has been an outspoken contributor and never hesitates to exercise her knowledge of Robert’s Rules.

Brown has also worked to revamp the website and communications side of her responsibilities. Under her watch, the Students’ Society established the French-language version of its website.

A former VP internal once said that the main purpose of the portfolio is to make memories for McGill students – with a concentrated, yearlong effort, Brown has served this mission exceptionally well.

SSMU REPORT CARDS: SEBASTIAN RONDEROS-MORGAN – VP External

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Without a “sexy” issue like defederation or tuition hikes during his tenure, Students’ Society Vice-President External Sebastian Ronderos-Morgan has spent much of his time working behind the scenes to establish student representation and bolster community relations. And though our political views don’t always align with Ronderos-Morgan’s, the Tribune feels he has done a competent job representing students’ needs and has set the table for his successor Myriam Zaidi to fight tuition increases.

Ronderos-Morgan’s biggest achievement has been finalizing bylaws and financial practices for the Quebec Student Round Table (TaCEQ), a nascent association of Quebec students’ societies, and for that we applaud him. TaCEQ is still in its infancy and has yet to accomplish anything of note, but the Tribune is cautiously optimistic about its future prospects.

Bad luck and government bureaucracy sidetracked Ronderos-Morgan’s efforts to prmote TaCEQ this year. A plebiscite question that asked undergraduate students whether TaCEQ should continue lobbying the government to receive bursaries was declared invalid after it didn’t appear in its entirety on the winter referendum ballot. Meanwhile, the provincial government has continually stalled TaCEQ’s attempts to get official recognition.

Ronderos-Morgan has also focussed on improving relations with the Milton-Park community. He helped found the Community Action and Relations Endeavour – which brings together representatives from the university administration, SSMU, and the Milton-Park community – and has had some success planning events such as the Holiday Fair. While community outreach shouldn’t be the main focus of the VP external, we were glad to see Ronderos-Morgan make a concerted effort to patch the damaged relationship between students and Milton-Park residents.

The Tribune is concerned, however, that the VP external seems to have a lighter workload than the other VPs. While we understand that successful lobbying campaigns require some year-to-year continuity, we question the need for a VP specifically tasked with lobbying and community relations. The external responsibilities could be folded into the presidential and university affairs portfolios – with assistance from the political affairs coordinator and external affairs committee – while the VP internal could handle community relations with assistance from a student coordinator.

Despite this, Ronderos-Morgan was a vast improvement over his predecessor, Devin Alfaro, and he did well within the limitations of the role.

SSMU REPORT CARDS: COUNCIL

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SSMU’s Legislative Council has had, by many accounts, a disappointing year. Although it’s difficult to evaluate the performance of a body of this type, the Tribune feels that this year’s Council deserves a below-average grade. Although there were some councillors who were proactive, well-informed, and contributed in a constructive manner to debates, there were too many councillors who seemed to revel in making mountains out of molehills, and speaking mainly to hear the sound of their own voices.

One of Council’s most important functions is to act as a check on the executive. However, councillors must adequately inform themselves about issues, instead of simply arguing with executives for the sake of it, as councillors sometimes did. For example, there was no valid reason to block the bylaw changes proposed by President Neilson, which were eventually passed in a student-initiated referendum.

Yet another important function of Council is to put forward meaningful motions, and to contribute to the running of the Society .. However, Council this year spent too little time debating important issues, and too much time discussing trivial ones.

On the bright side, attendance at Council was excellent this year, and good work was done in many of the committees. Motions to eliminate styrofoam in the Shatner building, explore vegan food options, and to advocate for paid practicum for education students, were among the worthwhile Council initiatives.

It’s unclear whether Council’s disappointing performance this year is due to its composition, or whether this points to a need to reform the body. But either way, Council didn’t do its job as well as it should have – something that SSMU will have to consider going into next year.

SSMU REPORT CARDS: SARAH OLLE – VP Clubs and Services

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Although her portfolio has quieted down in the second semester, Sarah Olle has had an extremely successful term as vice-president clubs and services. The Tribune had high expectations for Olle, who came into the position after serving as interest group coordinator last year. She has proven herself to be more than capable.

Olle’s biggest strength is her ability to handle the day-to-day issues that arise with various clubs and services. Olle is thorough, organized, and knowledgeable about countless facets of the Students’ Society. She has made herself readily accessible to both clubs and student journalists, keeping regular office hours and always answering emails promptly.

This year, Olle was able to accomplish many things that previous VPs have long discussed, including putting room bookings online and changing activities night to a two-day event. Olle has also taken on significant new projects. The Ambassador Fee, which fills the void in funding for clubs like the Debating Union that attend off-campus events, was largely her initiative. She helped to coordinate a long-term plan for proposed renovations in the Shatner Building.

In addition, she was calm, rational, and fair when dealing with the Choose Life controversy throughout the year. She is a strong, vocal presence at Council, contributing to discussions on a wide variety of issues.

The nature of the clubs and services portfolio means that most of the work occurs during the first semester. However, this year, Olle played an important role in securing independence for the Tribune during the second semester, helping to craft budgets and negotiate various other aspects of the transition. We acknowledge our bias – Olle was the executive we worked most intimately with – but if the dedication she showed to Tribune independence was typical of her work with other clubs and services, then Olle fully deserves an “A.”

In fact, there is only one thing the Tribune can fault Olle for this year: closing down Motion to Blog.

SSMU REPORT CARDS: REBECCA DOOLEY – VP University Affairs

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At this time last year, the Tribune voiced concerns with Students’ Society Vice-President University Affairs Rebecca Dooley’s lack of experience. Before her tenure as VP UA, she’d been Queer McGill’s political action coordinator, which, the Tribune believed, was insufficient training for the portfolio. We were wrong. Since the beginning of her tenure, Dooley has demonstrated a firm understanding of the university’s inner workings, and thanks to her hard work, she has succeeded in most areas of her portfolio.

In the first semester, Dooley worked closely with Jonathan Glencross to promote a new $7.50 student fee for the Sustainability Projects Fund. She also formed an undergraduate student taskforce, “The McGill We Want,” which will ultimately draft a report suggesting ways to improve the undergraduate experience.

At SSMU Council meetings, Dooley spoke frequently, defending her opinions while forging compromise between disparate factions of councillors. At University Senate meetings, though, Dooley appeared timid, and sometimes outmatched by other senators. Behind closed doors, however, Dooley was a strong student advocate. In committees, she fostered strong relationships with professors and administrators, tackling issues such as McGill’s problematic research policy draft.

This past semester, Dooley led a series of meetings between the Equity Committee and Choose Life, the embattled pro-life club, retooling the group’s constitution. Though the meetings were hostile, in the end, Choose Life and the Equity Committee compromised, coming to terms on a document. This was a major victory, and Dooley deserves a large portion of the credit.

Dooley is affable and approachable, and she thoroughly understands the role of the VP UA. We can only hope that next year’s VP UA, Joshua Abaki, emulates Dooley’s work ethic, amiable demeanour, and willingness to compromise with both the administration and other students.

SSMU REPORT CARDS: IVAN NEILSON – President

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When Ivan Neilson was elected last year, the Tribune was confident that he would be a competent president. We thought his pragmatic nature would allow him to work effectively with the vice-presidents and build a good relationship with McGill’s administration. He has, for the most part, lived up to our expectations.

Neilson has done a good job balancing the two sides of the presidential portfolio. The president has responsibilities for both internal and external issues: he manages the executive while simultaneously representing SSMU at Senate and the Board of Governors, and, from time to time, in the media. Previous SSMU presidents have excelled at one half of the job while underperforming in the other. Neilson has, in contrast, struck a good balance.

However, we feel that Neilson could have worked to be a more visible public face of the organization. Previous presidents, such as Jake Itzkowitz and Adam Conter, have been more active in engaging with students at various campus events – something we feel Neilson would have been wise to attempt.

SSMU has had a fairly successful year overall, and while this year’s executive, as a whole, has been very strong, some of this success can be attributed to Neilson’s leadership. Despite clashing views on all sorts of topics, this year’s executive has functioned well as a team (at least publicly), and Neilson has done a commendable job leading a group of strong-willed VPs.

Many of Neilson’s biggest achievements were on relatively unglamorous issues that will benefit SSMU in the long run. For example, his efforts to reform committee structures and hold councillors responsible for attending Council meetings were significant accomplishments, and will have substantive, beneficial effects on the way the SSMU operates.

Finally, Neilson has been an excellent representative for students at Senate and on the Board of Governors. His personable nature has allowed him to work well with the administration while not backing down on important issues, such as tuition increases.

This year’s executive, led by Neilson, made substantive progress across the board. Hopefully, the incoming executive will be able to build on their accomplishments.

SSMU Council votes to reinstate Choose Life’s club status

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After a semester of meetings on the future of Choose Life – the controversial pro-life group whose club status was suspended last semester – the Students’ Society Council officially reinstated the group’s club status last Thursday.

Choose Life’s club status was suspended last year on November 12 in light of the conflicts surrounding the club’s “Echoes of the Holocaust” event. This was intended to be a temporary measure, however, until the Student Equity Committee could generate an appendix to the group’s constitution. As a condition of its reinstatement, Choose Life has agreed to adopt an appendix that would specifically govern how the club operates under the SSMU Equity Policy.

Since both Choose Life and the Equity Committee had agreed on this document prior to the meeting, there was little debate before Council passed the motion.

SSMU Vice-President Clubs and Services Sarah Olle expressed confidence that this document has cleared up some of the confusion stemming from Choose Life’s understanding of the SSMU Equity Policy.

“A lot of their complaints revolved around the ambiguity of our equity policy, or ambiguity of their actual violations of the equity policy,” Olle said. “It’s good that we have come to some sort of agreement on a black and white document.”

In particular, the document stipulates that “Choose Life will not advocate or lobby for the criminalization of abortion through the use of SSMU resources.”

“It’s really important that resources from student fees are allocated in a way that reflects our policies, constitution, and ethical practices,” said VP University Affairs Rebecca Dooley. “However, if a group wants to take a position, we cannot prevent them from taking that position as long as they are not using our resources to do so.”

Although Choose Life VP Internal Paul Cernek said that the negotiations had facilitated constructive dialogue, he felt that the clause restricting Choose Life from using graphic imagery in their events singled out the club unfairly.

“At some level this is a double standard,” Cernek said. “Other groups on campus use displays of graphic images in open, public spaces to further their points. Not even that anyone [from Choose Life] had an overwhelming desire at this moment to mount one of these displays. We just thought that we should have the right to.”

Olle, however, emphasized that in this situation the Equity Committee was acting as a regulator.

“We are not in the same position as Choose Life because we were in a position where we were enforcing something on a group that had committed a violation of our equity policy,” she said. “Of course, there was an effort put toward getting cooperation from Choose Life and explaining why we would implement certain regulations but at the same time they were being regulated.”

Cernek said he is hopeful that this appendix will help strengthen relations between SSMU and Choose Life next year.

“This should help things go more smoothly,” he said. “Things have been pretty rocky at times. The whole process we went through with the Equity Committee, working with them in close contact, really helped both parties come to an understanding with each other. They want us to keep being able to be a club; shutting down a point of view is not at all their goal.”

A final fireside chat with Students’ Society President Ivan Neilson

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What were your biggest accomplishments this year?I was happy with the style of management that we had this year. The individual vice-presidents started new initiatives and new projects, assisting one another. I’m also thrilled that we were able to reform the committee structure. That’ll be a big improvement next year.

What advice do you have for next year’s SSMU President-elect Zach Newburgh?First, continue to build on the successes that we’ve had this year. Too often, a new executive will come in and reinvent the wheel. In some cases, this is necessary. Obviously I’m biased here, but I believe a lot of the work we’ve done this year can only be improved upon. Beyond that, it’s important to solicit as much input from as many different members as possible – whether that’s advice from the big student groups on campus, or finding different ways to reach out to individual students.

What are some of the challenges that next year’s executives will face?Free speech on campus will be an issue at McGill next year. Right now, as we saw at the University of Ottawa with Ann Coulter, there are two different camps on campuses across Canada. There’s one group that wants to maintain the university as a place of learning where students can come and not feel barraged by other ideas. Then, there’s the opposite groups, who says that universities are the final bastions of free and open expression and dialogue.Next year, we also have several leases coming up in the building. It’s really an opportunity for us to decide what type of services we should be offering. And then, of course, in the face of imminent tuition hikes, it’ll be important to represent a solid and unified front to the university and the provincial government.

Do you have any concerns regarding next year’s SSMU executive?They all have strong backgrounds in their respective portfolios. Individually, they’ll be able to handle certain challenges, but it’s going to depend on how they work together as a team. None of them have worked together before. Their success will depend on whether they can come together. In particular, their success will hinge on Zach’s leadership and the vision that he will promote. But it’s also going to depend on their willingness to work together. Again, once you let egos and personalities get in the way, it’s really hard to maintain that sense of collective vision.

Has the Salman Rushdie lecture become more controversial than you thought it would be?Yes. When we brought this to Council, we were given no indication that this would be an issue. I was surprised by the negative reaction. Of course, this was an executive initiative, though it was by no means a done deal when it was brought in front of Council.

What did you think of Council this year? Is it simply a rubber-stamping body that serves as a check on the executive?Council is the body that runs the Society. The trend has been, in the last couple years, for different reasons, that Council’s quality has declined. The number of initiatives being presented by councillors has decreased, the level of interest at Council is dwindling, and the committee activity and participation have fallen off the map. Perhaps it simply wasn’t a good year for individual councillors. But as it’s set up right now, it’s supposed to be the body that runs the Society.

Do you think this year was just a bad year for Council? Or is reform needed?A lot of it depends on the individual leadership of the executive. This year, [the SSMU executive] has been strong. In past years, if there’s less confidence in the executive, councillors see more of a need to step in and intervene. However, many factors play a role, so it’s hard to justify sweeping reform from one bad year.

What action do you recommend taking on General Assemblies?I recommend that the executive look at it and take it on as a project. They’re going to have to look at it and make some tough decisions. Whether that’s firmly entrenching the GA as an institution and accepting its shortcomings, or, in turn, deciding that GAs have no place in the society – thus getting rid of it altogether.

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