In the wake of the recent Students’ Society of McGill University (SSMU) elections, many students have renewed their complaints of dissatisfaction with what they feel is an insular and inaccessible SSMU. While these feelings are certainly valid, the overemphasized focus on SSMU executives and the concurrent lack of student engagement with faculty representatives show that there is room for a shift in expectations. Students often look directly to SSMU for representation and consultation, despite SSMU’s position within our structure of student governance as an overarching body that encompasses many smaller units in which students are represented. Students seeking more accountability and transparency in student government should first look towards their faculty representatives.
During elections, SSMU candidates have been known to make promises to improve communication and engagement with the student body. Despite these yearly ‘commitments’ and efforts by SSMU executives to enhance relations with students, the average student is still left feeling alienated and disconnected from student government. This is not to say that SSMU executives should not seek to improve levels of student engagement in campus politics, but rather that the most effective way of doing so is not by dedicating themselves to connecting directly with all students and their varied interests, but by working more closely with faculty representatives to best serve students.
aculty representatives have smaller bases of constituents than SSMU executives, making it far more realistic for faculty representatives to engage students within their faculties. Students often feel inherently more connected to their faculties, and their interests will likely be better understood and communicable to their specific representatives who have a more direct connection to them and are able to represent their individual demands within SSMU. Within a student government structure as large as McGill’s, it is important to capitalize students’ associations of identity within smaller bodies.
Groups such as the McGill School of Environment (MSE) have expressed dissatisfaction with their current level of representation on the SSMU Legislative Council, and have taken action to improve their representation to SSMU. The MSE put forth a referendum question to acquire their own seat on Council that would be more representative of their specific interests. Improving such weaknesses in representation is a necessary step towards reforming student government at McGill to adequately represent all students.
A shift in expectations of what should happen at different levels of representation also necessitates changes in the behaviour of elected student representatives. Increased accessibility and transparency between faculty representatives and their constituents can be achieved by communicating to students the details of Council meetings through reports—a proposition cited in the new SSMU President, Kareem Ibrahim’s platform—or involving constituents in the decision-making process by instituting polls and surveys, for eample, in order to make the events of Council meetings available to all students. Without such changes to the current system of faculty representation, SSMU executive promises of greater ‘transparency’ are empty.
Improved coordination between students, faculty representatives, and SSMU executives, with an increased emphasis on the role of representatives in communicating the needs and demands of their constituents, is a realistic change that can be implemented. Shifting the focus to faculty representatives is a necessary step towards increasing student satisfaction with SSMU and beginning to break down SSMU’s reputation of isolation and inaccessibility.