The Students’ Society of McGill University (SSMU) is attempting to open negotiations for its Memorandum of Agreement (MOA) with the University one year early. However, the administration has not reciprocated this interest in negotiating, and has no plans to officially open negotiations this year.
SSMU’s current MOA, which outlines the organization’s legal relationship with the University, was last updated in 2011 and will expire in 2016. According to SSMU President Courtney Ayukawa, the duration of past negotiations was a major factor in SSMU’s decision to pursue them early.
“Like a lesson learned, it was very obvious to [the SSMU executive] that negotiating with the administration is a very slow process. The easiest thing to point to is the lease negotiations, which took four years. For us, we wanted to start as early as possible rather than waiting until the time for it to come,” said Ayukawa in an interview with The Daily.
According to Ayukawa, she and SSMU VP University Affairs Claire Stewart-Kanigan have met briefly with members of the administration to discuss issues relevant to the MOA, but have not been able to open official negotiations.
Deputy Provost (Student Life and Learning) Ollivier Dyens told The Daily that the University, in fact, has no plans to open up negotiations with SSMU earlier than necessary. “That’s why we sign agreements – so we don’t re-open them every year,” said Dyens.
Despite its resistance to opening negotiations earlier, Dyens said that the administration recognizes SSMU’s concern with the timeliness of negotiations. “It is a concern for us too. We don’t want negotiations to drag on forever because it’s not good for either party. The longer it drags, the more complicated the relationships become because bitterness builds.”
Concerns with the current MOA
One issue that SSMU wants to see addressed in the new MOA is formalized access to student fee information. According to Ayukawa, student fees are collected by Student Accounts, which can make it difficult to determine exactly how fees are allocated and held by the University without excessive paperwork.
Ayukawa cited the SSMU Access Bursary Fund, which provides need-based financial aid to students, as an example of this problem.
“What SSMU really wants to see is, where is that money sitting? We know that it gets allocated to student scholarships, to student aid, and we know that the University matches this fee, but when this fee is actually matched and when this fee […] is even allocated is information that we would like to get,” she said.
There are also a number of things mentioned in the current MOA that are out-of-date and irrelevant to SSMU. “For example, the Red Herring [a satire publication] […] it isn’t very active and it isn’t really affiliated with SSMU anymore from what I can see,” said Ayukawa. “We’re looking to […] just generally update [the MOA] and sweep off some of the cobwebs.”
Plans for this year
Although the administration does not want to officially open negotiations, there may still be space for SSMU to air any grievances it has with the current MOA.
“If [SSMU] want[s] to send the irritants that they currently [have] with the MOA, and they want to send me stuff they would like to talk about next year, I would be more than happy to receive it. There might be stuff we can do right away [if there] is an irritant to them that could be solved easily,” Dyens told The Daily.
SSMU will be holding open forums to gauge student opinion on the current MOA, if and when official negotiations begin.
“In the meantime, I think what the student body can do is read the MOA itself and see the formalized relationship that SSMU has with the University,” said Ayukawa. “If students want more information as to what the MOA is […] just talk to their councillors, talk to the SSMU execs, come by anyone’s office hours, or just send us an email.”
Ayukawa said that, even if SSMU is not able to open negotiations in an official capacity this year, it hopes to build a framework for successful negotiations for next year’s executives.
“I’m pretty optimistic that we will at least be able to set the tone for how SSMU is going to proceed with these negotiations. […] We want to do things out in the open, and we want them to be transparent, and we want to publicize what is going on as things are progressing, and maybe not progressing.”