In this year’s Winter Referendum, the Students’ Society of McGill University (SSMU) is asking students to approve a significant increase to their mandatory base fee. The McGill Tribune spoke with SSMU President Tre Mansdoerfer about what SSMU is planning to do with the new funds.
Why is SSMU trying to increase the fee?
Compared to similarly-sized Canadian universities, SSMU’s student union membership fee is one of the lowest in the country. For example, the base student fee for Western University’s student government was $84.82 in 2018, while the SSMU membership fee was only $44.33. On this semester’s referendum, Mansdoerfer proposes that the fee be increased by $30, bringing the annual base fee up to $74.33 per semester to make SSMU’s membership fee comparable with other U15 universities.
In addition to the base fee, SSMU also makes revenue by renting out space within the University Centre and from sales at Gerts Campus bar. However, with the University Building under renovation since March 2018, these sources of income have been unavailable. The closure has also meant that SSMU has needed to rent additional spaces elsewhere for clubs services, and Independent Student Groups, raising the annual expenses of the union.
Where is the additional money going to go?
To rally support for the fee increase, Mansdoerfer created a SSMU Master Plan to guide future executives in allocating the new funds. When the plan was being built, SSMU considered the common complaints that students levy against SSMU, such as their previous regular scandals and their lack of support for campus clubs. Mansdoerfer said that he designed the plan around two main goals: Increasing usable student space and increasing the number of SSMU full-time staff.
“SSMU’s done a bad job [of] supporting the student body,” Mansdoerfer said. “Over my entire [undergraduate degree], I have been disappointed in the number of scandals [surrounding SSMU executives] and [I have] not seen SSMU make a significant improvement toward student life [….] The purpose of the Master Plan is to have future executives walk into their roles at the beginning of the year with a plan already made for them so that they’re set up to succeed.”
How are they going to increase their space?
In March 2018, SSMU bought 3501 Peel, a former psychologist’s office next to the First Peoples’ House. In response to McGill’s shortage of resources for student wellbeing, the Master Plan includes plans for SSMU to turn the space into its own independent wellness centre, complementing the new Rossy Student Wellness Hub operated by McGill Student Services. The building will host four psychologists, a nutritionist, a massage therapist, and a physiotherapist to begin with.
The master plan also states that $500-700k of the funds collected yearly from the base fee will go toward a Major Capital Improvement Fund (MCIF). The fund will first go towards renovating spaces within the University Centre, such as remodelling Gerts student bar to be more in the style of SuWu and turning the second-floor cafeteria into a kiosk-style food court. The fund will also be used to buy properties around the Downtown campus, increasing the overall availability of space for SSMU clubs and services.
Where are they hiring new people?
SSMU also plans to create approximately five full-time support staff positions to aid future executives in fulfilling their mandates. One proposal is for SSMU to hire a staff member dedicated to managing the society’s public relations, a job that is currently managed jointly by the VP Internal and VP External. According to Mansdoerfer, hiring new staff members should be a priority to ensure SSMU’s future success.
“There was an article written earlier this week that said that SSMU executives were overworked,” Mansdoerfer said. “We agree. There aren’t enough support systems in place, so we’re setting up [executives] to fail [….] For context, we have around 26 to 28 full-time staff, while Western has around 60. There’s a reason why Western has one of the best-functioning student unions in the country: It’s because they have that amount of support from their staff.”