March 31st, 2014

News | March 31st, 2014
SSMU year in review

This year’s SSMU executive was, with the exception of a few notable incidences, largely unimpressive. General assemblies were sparsely attended, often not meeting quorum, and the executive failed to take strong political stances. The most well-known political conundrum of the year, involving VP Internal Brian Farnan’s apology email, consumed Council’s already limited energy while ignoring a more important impending issue: the lease of the Shatner building. Executives failed to advertise the referendum question or form a ‘Yes’ committee for the fee levy to pay for the building’s lease, resulting in a failed referendum question, and the potential for deep budget cuts.

The Daily contacted the SSMU executive for interviews via email. However, only two of the executives, Brian Farnan and Tyler Hofmeister, responded, which is emblematic of the attitude toward the campus media over the last year. Their interviews have been paraphrased for the relevant reviews.

Katie Larson, President

SSMU President Katie Larson’s biggest accomplishment of this year – the signing of SSMU’s lease of the Shatner building after four years of negotiation with the University – is, at the time of this writing, in great danger of falling through. At $130,000 for rent and $100,000 for utilities for 2013-14, SSMU’s new lease is far more demanding than its equivalents at other Canadian universities, where student societies often pay a symbolic $1 lease. While the University has certainly been aggressive in the matter, for Larson to sign a negotiation where SSMU would be taking on the majority of costs, and then to fail to emphasize the importance of the lease and its related costs, is extremely disappointing.

In the case of the unpassed fee increase that would have covered the cost of the lease, Larson’s primary responsibility was, quite simply, to lead the executive in promoting the fee levy and in outlining its importance to students – a task that she has not completed, as the SSMU executive did not make clear the importance of the fee levy, nor did the executive campaign for the fee in any highly publicized way.

At Council on March 27, Larson deflected blame for this potentially disastrous outcome, stating that she “shouldn’t have to explain to students why they should find something important.” This reflects a lack of understanding of the student body, and a sense of apathy and disconnectedness worrisome in a SSMU executive.

Aside from the lease, Larson has made progress in several areas. She has succeeded in improving attendance at SSMU General Assemblies (GAs), which saw poor turnout in the first semester.

In addition, Larson has overseen the launch of the ECOLE sustainability project and Vision 2020, two important sustainability initiatives, which are integral to the presidential portfolio.

Larson’s communication with campus media has been poor throughout the year. The Daily requested her input for this review, but has not heard back from her as of press time.

As the saga continues over the failed referendum question, we hope that Larson will take initiative in pressing the importance of the fee levy, and pass that initiative on to her successor.

Brian Farnan, VP Internal

VP Internal Brian Farnan has seen an unexpected turn of events this year, with his name splashed across the right-wing blogosphere and in the international media. The incident in question came from a photoshopped GIF that Farnan shared on his weekly SSMU listserv showing U.S. President Barack Obama kicking in a door after a press conference. A student filed an equity complaint, and Farnan issued an apology on the listserv, sparking a backlash. SSMU rescinded the apology later in the semester.

Though the incident was the most visible of Farnan’s tenure, it had little to do with most of Farnan’s initiatives as VP Internal. In his role, Farnan has succeeded in a number of less-visible measures. He has adequately carried out SSMU’s communications strategy, particularly in the realm of social media, an important aspect of his portfolio. He has also served as one of the first student members on the Centraide committee, a service-oriented campaign run by McGill, and on SSMU’s Francophone Commission, helping to put on this year’s Méchante langue conference.

In terms of Frosh, Farnan’s primary responsibility, this year has seen a mixed bag of reforms and a continuation of the most pervasive problems facing Frosh. This year, Frosh lost $21,000 due to easily-avoidable mistakes, such as failing to factor in PayPal surcharges – a serious case of money mismanagement. Frosh also remains inaccessible, with inadequate reforms to address rape culture, and halfhearted attempts at accessibility – for instance, the near total lack of dry leaders. On the other hand, Farnan helped implement a number of important Frosh reforms, including the introduction of harm reduction teams, “Chill Zones,” and a more institutionalized, inter-faculty collaboration system. Farnan also expressed openness to collaborating more with alternative Froshes, such as Rad Frosh.

Finally, Farnan has improved his communication with campus media (something that was lacking in his first term), showing that he is aware of previous criticism and has taken active steps to improve in his role as VP Internal.

Tyler Hofmeister, VP Finance and Operations

As SSMU’s VP Finance and Operations, Tyler Hofmeister has the unenviable job of working with SSMU’s large budget. Under his guidance, SSMU opened the student-run café, broke even with the Society’s budget, and is currently dealing with the blow of the loss of the building fee. Though Hofmeister has communicated with campus media only via email, he has been open and reliable when responding to questions and concerns.

When asked about his less visible accomplishments, Hofmeister told The Daily that he has streamlined the budget by automating large parts of the budget creation process, and has made it more transparent by including detailed breakdowns of SSMU service budgets. In addition, by shifting investment areas, he has increased SSMU’s interest revenues by tens of thousands of dollars – something he is writing into bylaws.

Looking at long-term projects, Hofmeister has been working with McGill’s administration and Development and Alumni Relations to find a way for SSMU to receive donations. Currently, Hofmeister told The Daily that SSMU does not have legal charitable status and so cannot issue tax receipts required by many potential donors.

The opening of the student-run café is Hofmeister’s most visible accomplishment, although it fell short of some expectations, as its current iteration is only a counter rather than a full-fledged café.

Hofmeister leaves the position this May in the middle of a crisis regarding the budget, as the referendum question regarding the building fee – created to pay for the new terms of SSMU’s lease – failed to pass. Hofmeister told The Daily that “we are all responsible” for the fee not passing, and that he is focused on creating a contingency budget that will reduce the impact of the financial loss.

Stefan Fong, VP Clubs & Services

Stefan Fong has made the unusual move of running for (and winning) a re-election to the post of VP Clubs & Services. In prior interviews with The Daily, Fong said that he wanted to continue to fulfill long-term projects that could not be completed in just one year, such as Club Hub, a club management portal.

Most of Fong’s time has been taken up by day-to-day operations, which he has performed quietly and competently. In the Fall semester, Fong dealt with a mice infestation, the clean-up of the fourth floor of the Shatner building, and the allocation of club offices. His revamping of Activities Night in both the Fall and Winter semesters received mixed reviews.

Since Fong’s midterm review, there has been little visible work in his portfolio other than the continuation of club audits and workshops, and the installation of a new sound system in the Shatner building ballroom.

As of press time, Fong had not responded to The Daily’s request for an interview for this year-end review, making it difficult to to hear his reflections on the job. We find this troublesome, and wish to remind Fong that communication with campus media is essential.

Sam Harris, VP External

In his position as VP External, Sam Harris has focused on Milton-Parc community relations, McGill’s role in the Table de concertation étudiante du Québec (TaCEQ), and “defending student interests.” The last of the three took the form of attempts to create a working group that would oppose the Charter of Values, although the group did not materialize.

The Quebec student roundtable TaCEQ has been a major component of the role of VP External over the past few years. The roundtable is currently in the midst of a slow disintegration, and SSMU will be leaving, after a recent referendum question passed. However, Harris took little motion to leave prior to the departure of SSMU’s major ally and one of the three TaCEQ executives, instead sinking money into a court case.

Harris also appears to have done little to hold workshops or events that connect McGill with the Montreal community, instead focusing heavily on improving relations between McGill and the Milton-Parc community. However, while his work in this area has been fairly invisible, as it has only reached a small portion of students, it has set a good foundation for his successor.

Harris’s communication with campus media has been fairly good; however, as of press time, Harris has not responded to interview requests for this end-of-year review.

Joey Shea, VP University Affairs

Joey Shea has accomplished a significant amount in her tenure as VP University Affairs. Her position involves advocating for students to the administration, and a large part of her role is sitting on administrative bodies such as Senate and University Committees. Throughout the year, she has maintained a strong relationship with campus media. However, Shea did not respond to requests for an end-of-year review interview.

Shea has held a strong record of both collaborating with, and being critical of, the administration. She has been very vocal on Senate, and has put pressure on the administration, for example when Student Services considered allocating a surplus of $6 million to its operating budget.

One of the biggest accomplishments this semester was the fulfilment of Shea’s campaign promises on mental health. An ad-hoc committee on mental health, struck by Shea and others at the beginning of the year, has put forward a new mental health policy. The policy, which was adopted by SSMU in February, calls for the hiring of a mental health coordinator and the creation of a student mental health network.

In the wake of the sexual assault case – where three Redmen football players were charged with sexual assault – Shea helped organize a Forum on Consent, hosted in late February. The Forum, which sought to address issues of consent and rape culture, was commendable as it was largely student-led, allowing voice for student groups such as SACOMSS and Queer McGill to present a proposed Sexual Assault Policy.

Yet, Shea is also responsible for overseeing the Equity Committee, an area of SSMU that has recently attracted much criticism, after it formally reprimanded VP Internal Brian Farnan for his listserv GIF.

 

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