SSMU held its first General Assembly (GA) of the year on Monday with five motions on the agenda. Three motions – regarding an annual update to SSMU’s Sustainability Assessment, structural reforms for SSMU’s Board of Directors, and SSMU’s commitment to accessible education – were successfully passed before the meeting lost quorum. The remainder of the meeting was held as a consultative forum.
Though the GA quickly surpassed its 100-student quorum with a total of 130 attendees, so many people left the room after voting on the motion regarding accessible education that the attendance count was lost.
“It started off really promising and we went swiftly through the Board of Directors and the sustainability motions,” said SSMU Speaker Michael Tong.
Debate increased exponentially during the motion regarding accessible education, with speakers both against and in support of tuition hikes. SSMU Speaker and chair of the meeting Nida Nizam felt the discussion strayed from the substantive issue of the motion.
“There was definitely a lot of philosophical debate going on,” she said. “I think a lot of the motions were boiling down to principles and I think the students just had very different viewpoints based on personal context, especially regarding the Quebec tuition hikes motion and taking a stance on that.”
Whether education should be defined as a fundamental right or a privilege was reoccurring theme throughout the debate. Niko Block, a former Daily News and Features editor, made the final comment on the matter.
“You can make the argument that education is a privilege and not a right – you can still want that privilege to be bestowed upon every member of society for the sake of making it a more democratic society,” Block said.
The motion passed with a vote of 91 students in support, 6 against, and 7 abstentions. It was immediately following this result that quorum was lost.
“There was a movement at one point of many people walking out of the room,” said Arts Representative Micha Stettin. “And I am very curious to know from those individuals whether that walkout was intentional or whether they just had something else to do that was more important. And if it was intentional, why they walked out – what about the GA was not to their liking.”
Nizam highlighted that “people are well within their right to walk out on something if they disagree with how it works, but that may delegitimize what they were saying in the first place.”
SSMU President Maggie Knight echoed similar concerns surrounding the mass walkout, but acknowledged that maintaining quorum is something the GA has historically struggled with for a variety of reasons.
“I think when people have frustrations with the outcome of particular motions it isn’t ideal, but I understand that that motion took a long time to debate. McGill students are busy people and I understand they have places to be,” Knight said.
Knight reiterated her appreciation that the motion to reform SSMU’s Board of Directors had passed, which instituted by-laws clarifying its membership, powers, and procedures. “For me, it was very important that that structure was reformed. It was important that we address the issue of the [SSMU] exec ultimately being accountable to the exec,” she said.
Although motions were only symbolically passed after the loss of quorum, those who submitted motions were pleased to see constructive debate continue. Stettin authored the motion regarding support for workers’ struggles, which encourages SSMU to take immediate action in support of striking campus unions.
“I think it was an enriching debate,” Stettin said. “I’m glad there were a lot of diverse opinions and I’m glad people got to spend more than 20 minutes talking about the motion before it was even voted on. I’m also very glad that it passed. I’m sad that it didn’t pass with quorum, but, as a consultative body, that will give us a lot of incentive to pass it in Council.”
Clubs and Services Representative Adam Winer submitted the Motion on Student Consultation in Re-Appointments of the DPSLL (Deputy Provost (Student Life and Learning)), which would mandate the executive to lobby for a stronger consultative voice from students in the reappointment of senior administrators.
With the belief that students should be treated as equal partners in the campus community, he was happy to see the motion passed in consultative forum.
“It’s very troubling that students don’t have a say in the appointment of someone who’s supposed to be the voice of the students,” said Winer of the motion, which was drafted with input from former councillor Eli Freedman.
All motions voted on by the consultative body will be submitted to the Legislative Council for consideration at its next meeting today.
The ad-hoc SSMU by-law review committee is currently looking into GA reforms. The Executive hopes to implement changes before the winter GA, which is set to be held on February 1.