So far, the Post-Graduate Students’ Society (PGSS) executive’s greatest achievement has been the resolution of the long-drawn-out legal battle with the Canadian Federation of Students (CFS), which began in 2010. Although its confidence in Secretary-General Juan Camilo Pinto appeared low after the PGSS Board of Directors passed a motion of censure against him on December 3, the executive appears to have restored its cohesion to a working level.
Juan Camilo Pinto – Secretary-General
Juan Camilo Pinto has prioritized the updating of PGSS bylaws and governance documents, notably implementing a reform of the PGSS Judicial Board. He has also helped to move the CFS case forward, and has worked on student life initiatives such as the development of an intramural sports grant and the revamping of the Post-Graduate Student Life Fund.
Pinto has not been very active on the Board of Governors or at Senate, although he contributed to the passing of a set of regulations on graduate student advising and supervision, which clarified the student-supervisor relationship. Pinto indicated to The Daily that he has “started a conversation” with members of the administration to defend graduate students’ interests in the event that the university acquires the Royal Victoria Hospital.
The PGSS Board of Directors’ censure of Pinto was a major drawback to the fulfillment of his mandate, and points to a broader dissatisfaction with his leadership. For example, some PGSS councillors have expressed concern that Pinto had signed a statement on behalf of PGSS without consulting Council or the executive.
Julien Ouellet – External Affairs Officer
Julien Ouellet has been very active at the level of the Fédération étudiante universitaire du Québec (FEUQ), with which PGSS is affiliated. He has contributed to FEUQ’s lobbying efforts for cheaper international student health insurance, and has also worked on co-hosting the GU15 forum of pan-Canadian graduate student associations. Additionally, he promoted FEUQ’s campaign to reconfigure the provincial student loan program for increased accessibility.
Ouellet told The Daily that lobbying the provincial government for changes has been particularly difficult, given its emphasis on austerity measures. In this context especially, PGSS would stand to benefit from increased mobilization and activism beyond the relatively narrow framework defined and endorsed by FEUQ. Ouellet has, however, worked with graduate student associations outside FEUQ, and he plans to increase collaboration with Concordia during the semester.
Jennifer Murray – Academic Affairs Officer
As Academic Affairs Officer, Jennifer Murray has strived to represent graduate students’ interests on University committees and at Senate. For example, she assisted PGSS members in bringing their concerns to Senate regarding the move of the Research Institute of the McGill University Health Centre to the Glen site superhospital. As a member of the Senate Nominating Committee, she also contributed to the addition of another Senate seat for PGSS.
Improving graduate supervision has been a priority for Murray. She contributed to the reforms, passed at Senate in October, that increased accountability in graduate supervision. As a result, said Murray, this issue should be taken more seriously by the administration and by faculty. She also collaborated with Pinto in reviewing PGSS’ activities manual and bylaws. Murray noted that reaching the entire PGSS membership had been a challenge for her, as the graduate student body is not entirely concentrated on campus.
Nikki Meadows – Financial Affairs Officer
According to Nikki Meadows, changes to the Post-Graduate Student Life Fund are among her most noteworthy successes. These reforms allowed the numerous departmental associations, as well as postdoctoral fellows, to access their own finances and budget with less oversight from PGSS as a whole.
Changes to the grants program, emphasized by Meadows and the rest of the slate during last spring’s campaign period, have also been implemented. These include the removal of minimum and maximum grant amounts, as well as the creation of a more impartial grant allocation process.
One of Meadows’ main challenges has been dealing with PGSS’ various legal entanglements with CFS, and the substantial legal costs they incur. While such costs are all but unavoidable, and are, in fact, critical to PGSS’ ongoing struggle to leave CFS, Meadows expressed regret that the money involved could not be used to fund other deserving projects.
Meadows has also been closely involved in lease negotiations with the administration for Thomson House. While there has been no sign of major discord in the negotiations so far, Meadows and the rest of the PGSS executive have insisted on keeping them confidential. A lack of transparency could severely harm student trust, as was the case with the SSMU building lease last year.
Gesa – Internal Affairs Officer
Gesa’s term as Internal Affairs Officer has been a busy one so far. He told The Daily that the PGSS Internal Affairs Committee, over which he presides, has doubled in size compared to last year. This has provided the opportunity to plan a dense social calendar for PGSS members, including upcoming trips to Ottawa and Quebec City, a widely-anticipated laser tag event, and a love and sex week in February with events such as queer speed dating.
Like some other PGSS execs, Gesa mentioned CFS troubles as one of the main challenges of his term so far. Noting the lawsuit which he filed as an individual against CFS and won, Gesa expressed regret over the energy that often had to be diverted toward CFS issues instead of other initiatives. However, Gesa is hopeful that, pending the results of the upcoming disaffiliation referendum, the resolution of PGSS’ legal and financial disagreements with CFS will liberate resources and allow him to expand the implementation of his portfolio.
Brighita Lungu – Member Services Officer
As the Member Services Officer, Brighita Lungu has maintained mental health as a high priority for PGSS through active involvement in Mental Health Week and the Students in Mind conference. Lungu has also pushed for new mental health initiatives, including the development of a services map in conjunction with the PGSS equity committee to help students access mental health resources more easily, and the production of a testimonial-based mini documentary about grad students’ experiences with mental health, which should be completed this semester.
Given that roughly 1,000 PGSS members have children, childcare has been another priority for Lungu. PGSS currently offers monthly “Study Saturdays,” providing babysitting services, snacks, and activities for members’ children, giving the parents time to study. Lungu is also seeking government approval for PGSS to open a private daycare, but her efforts have so far been unsuccessful due to the low zoning priority given to childcare services in the downtown area.