The views expressed in this article are those of the author, and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of The Bull & Bear and its editorial board.
In October 2017, the Students’ Society of McGill University (SSMU) announced that its building would be closing for construction from February 2018 until Winter of 2019. The decades-old University Centre desperately needed renovations to modernize heating, ventilation, and electricity infrastructure. As well, asbestos will be removed, emergency capabilities improved, and floor tiles replaced.
The immediate reaction from most McGill students was profoundly negative. Student journalists criticized the lack of an official press release regarding the building closure, noting that the announcement was made only via a Facebook event. Student clubs, like the Players’ Theatre, rightfully asked how their activities could continue without their permanent space in the SSMU building. Crucial student-run services like the Sexual Assault Centre of the McGill Students’ Society (SACOMMS) recognized a need to temporarily relocate and worried about the construction’s impact on their activities and services. Students also bemoaned the closure of Gert’s, the beloved student bar.
Despite the negative repercussions of the building closure, and there are many, it must be noted that SSMU dealt with the situation in an uncharacteristically competent, resourceful, and logical way. Excluding the lack of a press release, SSMU’s management of the building closure has been, almost shockingly, reasonable and apolitical. Move dates for SSMU clubs and committees were posted online. Some vital student services have been relocated to other McGill buildings and their ability to operate during 2018 and 2019 is secure. Most notably, SSMU recently purchased a building on Peel Street which will house some student activities, clubs, and committees.
It is incredible what can be achieved when student government focuses on students and not solving the world’s geopolitical and philosophical conflicts.
It is impossible to overstate how fresh and desperately needed this approach is. On the building closure file, SSMU has been astonishingly competent. This ordeal should serve to remind McGill students why SSMU exists in the first place – to support student life, clubs, activities, and to provide services like SACOMMS, Nightline, Walksafe, and the student health plan. It is incredible what can be achieved when student government focuses on students and not solving the world’s geopolitical and philosophical conflicts.
Although certain executives might prefer to wax poetic about international squabbles, SSMU does not have the budget or jurisdiction to solve them. Of course, the large majority of McGill students would like SSMU to do its job – managing extracurricular activities and student services. The building closure is forcing SSMU to do just that. Rather than discussing boycotts of countries halfway around the world, SSMU is logically and productively dealing with a major student life issue.
Is there room for optimism next year? Possibly. To their credit, McGill students have elected some highly competent and engaged student executives. President-elect Tre Mansdoerfer’s pledge to improve mental health services for students is desperately relevant and has the potential to concretely better students’ lives. Matthew McLaughlin, SSMU’s next Vice-President of Internal Affairs, is highly involved on campus and has concrete ideas for improving the legislative functioning of student government. The students elected to the Finance, Student Life, and and University Affairs portfolios also seem to be motivated less by political ideology and more by solid plans to improve the student government. The Vice-President of External Affairs position has a history of attracting candidates with strongly ideological intentions, and this year is unfortunately no exception. Either way, executives will be forced towards logistical, rather than political conversations, due to the reality of the expensive and complicated University Centre reconstruction.
Though the desperately needed building renovation does present McGill students with problems, SSMU, so far, has dealt with them in a logical, non-divisive, and competent manner. Most McGill students would like to see that more often. Ultimately, it shouldn’t take a building closure for student government to do its job.