Editorial: Reimagining SSMU to ensure future sustainability

In the past six months, the Students’ Society of McGill University (SSMU) has been without the director of its daycare program, faced the resignation of its recently-hired general manager, and most recently witnessed the resignation of the vice-president (VP) Internal. Soon, SSMU’s building manager will be going on paternity leave. This amount of turnover is an anomaly, and indicates the need for concrete provisions to handle vacancies. As SSMU works to cover these responsibilities and hire replacements, it must learn from this experience and work to ensure that there are contingency plans in the future to mitigate the impact of resignations.

SSMU provides a wide range of services, from long-term needs including the representation of students’ interests to the university and the funding for student-run clubs, to the development of short-term portfolios of each year’s executive team. Institutional memory is therefore critical. While the previous general manager, Pauline Gervais, held her position for 12 years, the new hire, Jennifer Varkonyi, resigned in August after just six months. It is important that essential duties do not fall through the cracks, but it should not be at the expense of the executives’ portfolios. As permanent staff resign, go on leave, or inevitably move to different companies, it becomes more difficult for remaining staff to fill in for those positions in addition to their own responsibilities.

The VP Internal portfolio will be divided between VP External Emily Boytinck, VP Clubs & Services Kimber Bialik, and VP University Affairs Chloe Rourke until a new VP Internal is elected, who will have a term that will last from Jan. 1 to May 31, 2016. As a result, the already large workloads of the executives are further increased, making it difficult for them to work on their individual projects. Regardless of who resigns, it should not be such a burden to the remaining executives. The current strategy of reallocating work as resignations occur is clearly not sustainable when this many positions are in transition. There must be a procedure for appointing an interim executive or general manager so that executives, whose terms only last for one year, do not have to abandon initiatives that they campaigned on.

The legacy of this year’s executive should be to ensure that future generations do not have to weather a similar storm.

In the short term, SSMU has no choice but to mitigate the effects of the high turnover. To reduce the enormous workload of executives, more student positions can be created in each executive office to take on the administrative busy work. This will allow executives to dedicate more time to their portfolios. Existing staff members can be trained to take on more responsibilities on an interim basis in the case of resignations. A new executive position that can take on parts of each executive’s portfolio would also reduce their current responsibilities. The discussion must be opened on where current executive portfolios overlap or have similarities, and those facets should be combined under a new position. Such measures will be beneficial even in stable times, as it increases the amount of time and resources that executives can devote to their positions and reducing stress. SSMU members should support the executives in establishing and funding new roles.

It is a given that SSMU’s first priority should be finding staff to fill the open positions, but the changes that are made to address the current gaps need to go further. The legacy of this year’s executive should be to ensure that future generations do not have to weather a similar storm.

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