On March 26, The Bull & Bear attended the SSMU Winter 2018 General Assembly. Due to an inability to reach quorum, the GA was deemed a consultative forum. Despite low attendance, the audience voted in favour of a Motion to Organize the Fight for Free Education and Cancellation of Student Debt, passed a report by the incoming Executive Committee, and observed reports from all Vice-Presidents, as well as the SSMU President.
The Motion to Organize the Fight for Free Education and Cancellation of Student Debt was drafted by Socialist Fightback at Concordia and McGill. It requests that SSMU, under the office of the VP External Affairs, mobilize for a one-day student strike in Fall 2018 (in line with the actions of York and McMaster University), establish monthly democratic assemblies to encourage student solidarity, and collaborate with other student unions and movements across the country. Current VP External, Connor Spencer, lent her support to the motion stating: “I think it’s absolutely ridiculous that we’re a student union without an opinion on tuition. That’s literally what student unions are for.”
The movers cited the 2012 protest against government tuition hikes as precedence for the success of student action. When a member of the audience inquired as to whether or not the group intends to converse with the government before taking action, one of the movers of the motion replied: “We have talked to the government and it has failed, now is not the time to keep talking, now is the time to act.” He added that the average student debt in Canada is $27,000 per student, amounting to a total of $15 billion, and went on to say that around $700 billion sits idle in Canadian banks. He feels these funds could be used to alleviate the burden of student debt.
The movers were met with heavy opposition from a group of students across the room including Andrew Figueiredo, U2 Arts and incoming Arts representative to SSMU, who referred to the motion as a “pipe dream.”
Chip Smith, U0 Arts, expressed concern about making substantive decisions without quorum. He said: “I want everyone to take a look around right now and see how many empty chairs there are right here. How are we going to get quorums for monthly democratic assemblies when we can’t even get quorum for a GA that we hold twice a year? How can we say to students that we’re going to make democratic decisions with only a handful of people each month?” The motion was then voted on and passed, though due to the non-binding nature of motions passed at a Consultative Assembly, it will be presented at the next Legislative Council for further debate and voting.
Members of the executive then presented their respective reports. Newly-elected President Tre Mansdoerfer presented the goals of the 2018-2019 SSMU Executive team. In the report, Mansdoerfer pledged to improve communication between the Executive and the student body, foster greater transparency, respond to equity concerns, and improve the Executive team dynamic. The consultative forum voted to approve this report for ratification at the next Legislative Council meeting.
Next, current VP External Spencer spoke on her involvement with community initiatives, including waste disposal awareness in the Milton-Parc community, Social Justice Days, and Culture Shock with QPIRG. Spencer also addressed the work that falls outside of her portfolio on the SSMU Gendered and Sexualized Violence Policy and the implementation committee for the McGill Policy Against Sexual Violence. Following Spencer, President Muna Tojiboeva presented the Vice President Internal’s Executive Report on behalf of Maya Koparkar, who was absent. Highlights of the VP Internal’s portfolio included successfully downsizing the Student’s Society Network Program, diversifying events, and overhauling the existing First Year Council structure. Tojiboeva also cited Innovation Week as a great success.
Following Tojiboeva’s remarks, Vice President Finance Esteban Herpin presented his report. Since taking over the position two months ago following Arisha Khan’s resignation, Herpin has been managing SSMU’s annual budget, managing the insurance plan, and working to ensure the long-term financial stability of the society. On the operations side of his portfolio, Herpin cited several projects, including acquiring spaces to house clubs and services, that are under his purview. When asked about the apparent lack of accessibility of the newly acquired building, located at 3501 Peel Street, Herpin responded that “[SSMU] will look into making the building accessible… and give it back to students and make it an extra resource.” Herpin spoke to the building’s excellent condition.
The next executive report was presented by Vice President University Affairs Isabelle Oke. Oke summarized the projects that her portfolio has recently undertaken, including a “policy sprint” discussion on the topic of a Fall Reading Week, the McGill Academic Roundtable, and increased student advocacy. Future projects include more research into gender-neutral language in SSMU documents and proceedings, compiling all available information to stimulate and inform discussions pertaining to a Fall Reading Week, and supporting the Fiat Lux Plan for the Redpath-McLennan library complex.
Next, Vice President Student Life Jemark Earle spoke on the topic of student clubs. He explained that groups who haven’t met the requirements to maintain full status have been notified. Additionally, the building closure has caused concern about room bookings. Earle cited a motion that was recently passed to allow clubs to apply for funding and be reimbursed for booked rooms in alternative spaces until the building re-opens.
The final executive report was given by President Muna Tojiboeva. In her report, Tojiboeva updated the GA on her attendance at Board of Governors meetings, including committee sessions and retreat meetings. Tojiboeva also cited upcoming projects including SpinIt, a SSMU Eats app, and improving the dining options in SSMU following the building closure. Regarding Committee to Advise on Matters of Social Responsibility (CAMSR), Tojiboeva announced that she will present an update at the next Board of Governors meeting.
Both the Motion to Organize the Fight for Free Education and Cancellation of Student Debt and 2018-2019 SSMU Executive Goals Report will be presented at the next SSMU Legislative Council, taking place March 29. The GA Agenda, Motion, and other reports from the Consultative Forum can be found on the SSMU website under ‘General Assembly.’