Whether you’re almost graduating or just stepped foot on campus for the first time, navigating McGill’s student government can seem daunting at first. This guide is a Redbird’s eye view of the way the SSMU works, the roles within it, and how the SSMU relates to student life and other governing bodies at McGill.
What is the SSMU?
The SSMU (Students’ Society of McGill) is the school’s biggest student union, and every undergraduate is a member by default. Each year in March, six SSMU officers (or executives) are elected to serve one-year terms. Executives serve different facets of student government and are responsible for drafting policies, providing student services, lobbying the university to improve the quality of education, corresponding with student clubs, and more, under the SSMU Constitution. The six executives are the President and the VP Student Life, VP Finance, VP University Affairs, VP External, and VP Internal.
The President is the chief spokesperson of the SSMU, overseeing all of its operations, from policy implementation to correspondence with McGill administration. They also serve on the Board of Directors, and hold the sole undergraduate seat at the Board of Governors.
The VP Student Life serves as liaison between the SSMU and student clubs (run entirely by undergraduates that sign up for membership), services (offered to all McGill students by default), and Independent Student Groups (organizations larger than clubs, often non-profit corporations like the McGill Tribune and CKUT Radio). They also promote mental health support and services for students through the Mental Health Committee.
The VP Finance oversees the SSMU’s finances, including annual budgets, audits, insurance and healthcare plans, and manages human resources.
The VP University Affairs ensures student equity and representation at all levels of student government, except the Board of Governors. They appoint representatives to various committees (Undergraduate Senate, Library Improvement Fund Committee), and advocate for and implement equity-based policies and services, like the extended S/U policy for the 2020-2021 remote school year, or free menstrual products on campus.
The VP External manages the SSMU’s relations with off-campus organizations, including governments (municipal, provincial, and federal), other Montreal universities, political campaigns, and community organizations in Montreal. They also oversee SSMU Indigenous Affairs and Francophone Affairs.
The VP Internal facilitates internal communications between SSMU execs and student clubs and ISGs. They organize SSMU events and events for first-year students (Frosh, Activities Night), and oversee student publications (newspapers, faculty journals) to promote student engagement with SSMU.
Within SSMU there are two main governing bodies: the Board of Directors and the Legislative Council.
The Board of Directors (BoD) is the highest governing body of SSMU, chiefly concerned with SSMU’s internal affairs, such as ratifying policies that students have voted on. It is composed of 12 voting members (4 executives, 4 Legislative Council representatives, 4 members at large) and one non-voting international student representative.
The Legislative Council (or Leg Council) is “the representative and political body of the SSMU” which makes decisions regarding policies that students vote on. These policies run the gamut, from a $1.20 raise in the SSMU membership fee to the issue of Harmful Military Technology. If, for example, the minimum number of voters (also known as quorum) is not reached for a General Assembly, then the approval of a motion will be deemed non-binding; the “Yes” on a motion is really more of a “Pending.” The motion is then voted on at the next Legislative Council meeting, where the decision is made before going to the BoD for ratification.
Leg Council is comprised of all 7 SSMU executives and 30 Councillors from different faculties (Arts, Dentistry, etc.) and associations (First-Year Council, Senate Caucus). There are also 4 non-voting staff members that help the meetings operate, though they are not representatives for students: the Speaker, the Parliamentarian, the General Manager, and the Recording Secretary.
The Judicial Board is an offshoot of the BoD which adjudicates on internal disputes within SSMU, in accordance with the Internal Regulations (the next “highest level of regulation” after the Constitution). The Board is composed of 1 Chief Justice and 6 Justices, appointed by execs. It is responsible for deciding whether anything related to student governance has violated the Constitution: a contentious policy that is being debated, a scandal involving an executive, etc.
The McGill Senate, though not technically part of the SSMU, is the university’s second-highest governing body, after the Board of Governors. It is composed of 111 voting members across staff, students, Governors, and alumni. Unlike Leg Council and the BoD, the Senate is less about student politics and more about the nitty gritty of academics: academic policies, admissions regulations, library services, students’ rights and grievances.