Breaking: Board of Directors Overturns Ruling on Hillel Trips

Photo courtesy of Creative Commons

On December 2, the SSMU Board of Directors (BoD) met to ratify motions passed during the November 28 Legislative Council meeting, which included the controversial motion Regarding Free Trip Offers to Student Leaders. The BoDs’ debate over ratification comes as SSMU faces intense backlash over their treatment towards Science Representative to SSMU Jordyn Wright and her planned Hillel Montreal Face to Face trip to Israel. This issue has garnered significant public interest, evident by the emotionally-charged public gallery present during the meeting. Earlier that day, Fabrice Labeau, Deputy Provost (Student Life and Learning) sent an email to all McGill staff and students saying the Legislative Council “[appeared] to diverge from SSMU’s own Constitution and it represents a very serious breach of trust.”

The motion up for ratification establishes Wright’s acceptance of the trip as a conflict of interest, and asks that she either declines the trip or resigns from her BoD position. Ratification would mean that the BoD agrees with the conflict of interest decision by the Legislative Council and would force a vote on the removal of Wright from the BoD.

Arts Representative and Director Adin Chan began the debate by introducing the open letter published in the Bull & Bear that he had written with ten other councillors denouncing the Legislative Council’s decision. He emphasized concerns with negative media attention, saying, “It’s important to consider SSMU’s reputation at the moment.” 

After more directors voiced concern about ratifying the motion, a member of the gallery argued that “overturning this decision shouldn’t be taken lightly, when the Legislative Council is the most democratic body of SSMU.”

[The administration is] interfering in student governance, [but] they hold all of our money in trusts, [and] I can’t put [SSMU] in a position where it’s unable to function

In response, one director reminded the gallery of the role of the BoD, which is to ensure proper governance and adherence to the outlined Chain of Command, and maintain the internal regulations of the SSMU.

SSMU VP University Affairs Madeline Wilson, a member of the gallery, brought up the mass email from Deputy Provost Fabrice Labeau, maintaining that if the BoD complied with the Deputy Provost’s sentiments and failed to ratify, it would “set a dangerous precedent.” She also explained that members of the McGill community should not levy accusations of anti-Semitism “lightly,” noting that she has “received death threats and harassment” in response to claims that her support of the motion could be classified as such.

SSMU President and Director Bryan Buraga also spoke about the personal impact of the events since November 28. “I looked over the livestream and watched every single time I spoke, and am unable to see how my comments singled [Wright] out specifically or targeted her,” he said. “It’s affecting my ability to do my job when my personal integrity is at stake. I’m really disappointed it’s come to this point and [for] the harm it causes to Wright and everyone else on campus.” At the end of his statement, Buraga supported not ratifying the motion and revising the SSMU Conflict of Interest Policy.

Bhutkar echoed Buraga’s sentiments, claiming that “Jordyn was not attacked,” and that “there’s a lot of misinformation out there that blatantly disregards the facts.”

After the motion was called into question, SSMU VP External and Director Adam Gwiazda-Amsel asked to vote by secret ballot, which passed. The vote was 2 in favor, 7 opposed, and 1 abstaining. The BoD failed to ratify the Motion Regarding Free Trips to Student Leaders, prompting visible outcry from many members of the gallery. 

Many gallery members who supported the motion admonished the directors. One student tearfully said, “You don’t understand how much this breaks my heart; really, really breaks my heart.” Another member of the gallery called the directors “cowards licking the boot of McGill University,” alleging that they were “spineless for [their] willingness to change [their] minds based on what everyone said.”

When asked by a gallery member to explain why they voted against ratification, directors offered different explanations. Director Jack Kline referenced “limiting legal liability,” while VP Gwiazda-Amsel said that he voted against the motion because “the duty of the BoD is to make sure SSMU can still exist: it’s about how things are done versus what things are done.” Arts Councillor and Director Chan said that he is “responsible for the [SSMU] corporation, and it wasn’t in the best interest of the corporation in regard to human resources and legal practices.” 

President Buraga stated that “it was very difficult” for him to vote against ratification, but that he had met with both the Deputy Provost and the Principal earlier that day and that they had “implicitly threatened” the existence of SSMU. “I said very strongly that they’re interfering in student governance, [but] they hold all of our money in trusts, [and] I can’t put [SSMU] in a position where it’s unable to function,” he stated.

VP Gwiazda-Amsel motioned to restrict the Motion Regarding Free Trips to Student Leaders from returning to Legislative Council for further debate, arguing that by the time Legislative Council reconvenes on January 16, the Hillel Montreal trip will be over and further debate will be irrelevant.

President Buraga disagreed, saying that “it’s important that [this] goes back to Legislative Council; they hold the BoD accountable, [and] they have the opportunity to voice their dissent with how we handled this.” Still, VP Gwiazda-Amsel’s motion narrowly passed with 5 in favor, 3 opposed, and 3 abstaining.

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