On February 28, SSMU held its fourth Legislative Council meeting of 2019 to discuss the Master Plan, as well as motions regarding an increase in the Health and Dental fee, McGill’s Policy on Sexual Violence, the Athletics Facility Improvement Fee and the McGill Tribune Fee Renewal.
SSMU Master Plan
SSMU President, Tre Mansdoerfer, proposed a $25 to $30 increase in student fees next year for a series of “tangible improvements to the student body experience.” Mansdoerfer aims to improve student life by renovating the student center and increasing support for mental health, clubs, and services.
To promote student wellness, the plan involves hiring four private psychologists, a nutritionist, a massage therapist, and a physiotherapist, as well as promoting “general wellness activities,” After the purchase of 3501 Rue Peel, the student services building, Mansdoerfer plans to set aside $500,000 to $700,000 per year in order to purchase more properties from McGill. These new buildings will serve to accommodate services for student clubs and individuals, including an expanded daycare and a permanent space for Islamic prayer. Furniture and lighting renovations were proposed for Gert’s, as well as new food options for the second-floor cafeteria in the Shatner Building.
Finally, Mansdoerfer aims to provide additional staff for various SSMU executive positions as well as two additional accountants, believing that the SSMU will be better able to support Clubs and Services with the additional staffing. The Plan calls for three permanent staff members to service the executive offices of the President and University Affairs, Student Life and Finance, and Internal and External Communications.
Health and Dental Fee Question
The Legislative Council approved a referendum on increasing both the opt-outable Health and Dental fees by $50 dollar each, for a total $100 increase per student. The Health committee recommended the SSMU to increase the psychological coverage maximum from $500 to $1000 and adding massage therapy coverage to benefits. President Mansdoerfer expressed his confidence in the referendum’s passing, noting that similar referendums on fee increases have rarely failed in the past.
Motion in Support of revisions to McGill’s Policy Against Sexual Violence
The Council voted to amend McGill’s Policy Against Sexual Violence in order to recognize the inherently unequal power dynamic within professor-student relationships. Representatives agreed to persuade the McGill administration to lobby the Quebec government so that McGill’s prohibition of student-professor relationships may be represented in provincial law. Current Quebec privacy law limits the administration’s ability to share outcomes of disciplinary measures on professors with any students.
The SSMU amendment does not differentiate between types of teaching staff so that this rule would apply equally to undergraduate TAs and tenured professors. Exceptions exist for pre-existing relationships, but these will still be regarded as a conflict of interest. While the Council noted that the proposed policy is more restrictive than other Canadian schools, they acknowledged that many American universities (including the University of California, Harvard, and Yale) impose even stricter rules on student-professor relationships. Jacob Shapiro, VP University Affairs, cited a “breach of justice” in the current policy, which does not allow students to be informed of the disciplinary action taken against professors found to violate the rules.
The motion also amended the wording of McGill’s Sexual Assault Policy ensuring the protection of survivors who have used illegal substances from disciplinary action, expanding beyond alcohol or cannabis.
Athletics Facility Improvement Fee
The Council approved a question for the winter referendum which proposes a $10 increase in student fees for improvements to McGill’s athletic facility. Planned improvements include the construction of gender-neutral washrooms, improvements to the Fieldhouse, and the addition of private workout rooms in the fitness centre.
Ana Paula Sanchez, Arts Representative, expressed concern over possible backlash to these renovations due to the lack of support offered by McGill Athletics to the Change the Name movement. Senator Andre Lametti raised the concern that the fee increase is an example of the university sourcing money from student fees in lieu of increasing tuition. Lametti argued that the athletic facilities should be a public good paid for by the administration and the province rather than by mandatory student fees.
In support of the fee increase, Brandon Hersh, Dentistry Representative, argued that the university has matched student fees for athletic improvements. In response to concerns that the fee increase would improve facilities that are only accessible to those who pay for a gym membership, Mansdoerfer indicated only between $30,000 and $40,000 would be used for a private workout room out of the $5 million the fee would raise.
Motion to Endorse Student Walkout for Climate Justice
The Legislative Council agreed to endorse a student walkout protesting climate change, specifically in response to a 2018 report detailing the harmful effects of a 1.5 degree increase in global temperature. SSMU resolved to organize a larger group to send as a delegation in the March 15 walkout and to demand a “governmental and institutional” response to the 2018 report.
Motion regarding McGill Tribune Fee Increase
The Council passed a motion to endorse a fee increase for The McGill Tribune for the winter referendum. Maria Labrosse, Editor-in-Chief of The Tribune, defended a mandatory fee increase of $1 per semester, to a total of $4 per student each semester. Labrosse detailed The Tribune’s educational mandate, which seeks to promote academia and journalism by offering workshops and conferences available to the public. With the Tribune ran a deficit the last two years, Labrosse stated that funding from student fees is essential to avoiding reliance on external funding, which would allow The Tribune to retain its editorial independence.
However, Dentistry Representative Brandon Hersh argued that since “we can opt out of student radio,” there is no reason for student fees for newspapers to be non-opt-outable. Additionally, both Lametti and Clubs Representative Victoria Flaherty expressed concern that the proposed increase was a round number, with Flaherty remarking that a fee increase “usually comes down to a cent.” In contrast, VP Finance Jun Wang highlighted the importance of promoting a free press: “I don’t believe a dollar increase is that insane,” as the money raised would likely “barely cover [providing for] an accountant.”