The Legislative Council of the Students’ Society of McGill University (SSMU) convened on March 26 for a meeting that lasted more than six hours. Some of the issues addressed included ongoing research into McGill’s equitable hiring practices, SSMU’s stance on the debate over women-only gym hours, anti-austerity mobilization, and opposition to the development of harmful military technology. Council also discussed the results of the recent online referendum on sustainability, and the motion on accessible education that failed to pass at the last General Assembly (GA) due to lack of quorum.
Carolin Huang, one of McGill’s researchers on equitable hiring, gave a short and in-depth presentation of both SSMU’s and McGill’s hiring practices, which revealed that minorities are troublingly underrepresented, particularly in certain faculties. McGill adopted an equity policy in 2007, Huang explained, but its implementation has so far been “limited in practice.”
“We overviewed the ways in which employment equity is legislated […] and we came up with recommendations and concerns,” said Huang, explaining that the researchers had heard “many concerns raised by students and faculty around feelings of un-belonging and discrimination on campus.”
When asked by Engineering Representative Anikke Rioux what the practical purpose of this report would be, Huang explained that it should provide an impetus for student advocacy.
“A large problem is that McGill’s administration doesn’t see [employment equity] as a big issue,” she said, “so a lot of people we’ve talked to see students having a huge role in advocating [for this] and putting that public pressure on the administration.”
Women-only gym hours
Also on the table was a motion brought forward by VP University Affairs Claire Stewart-Kanigan concerning the recent proposal to institute women-only hours at the university fitness centre. The motion asked McGill to reopen negotiations on this highly contentious issue, and work toward a compromise.
Arts and Science Senator Chloe Rourke expressed repeated concern that the portion recommending a compromise would alienate the hundreds of students who had strongly opposed the idea of women-only hours. Her concern was echoed by Rioux and a number of other councillors. Eventually, a motion to divide the question passed, and each part was voted on separately. The first clause for re-opening negotiations passed almost unanimously, while the second clause on working toward a compromise passed with four for, three against, and eight abstentions.
At the recent SSMU GA, a motion was brought forward calling on SSMU to support the financial accessibility of education and oppose tuition deregulation. After considerable debate, the majority of students present voted to adopt it; because quorum had been lost, however, the motion was brought to Council for approval.
Stewart-Kanigan spoke strongly in favour, as did VP External Amina Moustaqim-Barrette, arguing that commitment to financial accessibility is particularly important in light of recent austerity measures from the provincial government.
Rioux and VP Internal Daniel Chaim, meanwhile, expressed opposition on the grounds that this motion opposed deregulation without offering tangible solutions, and its wording could be considered ambiguous.
Medicine Senator David Benrimoh advocated leaving the question to a referendum, given its potentially controversial implications. This proposal passed by a significant margin, and a slightly simplified version of the motion will be voted on by SSMU members through an online referendum.
Policies on harmful military research and climate change
In accordance with a motion passed at the Fall 2014 GA, Stewart-Kanigan proposed a policy concerning harmful military research on campus.
“SSMU has had many policies in the past supporting transparency in McGill’s development of harmful military technologies on campus,” she said.
“This is essentially a renewal of past policies we’ve had, while adding an additional dimension of mandating the VP [University Affairs] to work with the university to support research initiatives outside of those tied to harmful military technologies, through seeking to incorporate the needs of students.”
The policy will come before Council for approval at a later date.
As a result of another motion from the Fall GA, Moustaqim-Barrette notified councillors that she had developed a climate change policy for SSMU. This motion, which mandates SSMU to advocate for climate justice and support student-run campaigns with this goal, will also be voted on at a later date.
Moustaqim-Barrette brought forward a motion mandating SSMU to send out a special listserv to all its members to explain the impact of provincial austerity measures on McGill and the wider community.
Having spearheaded the creation of an anti-austerity mobilization committee within SSMU, she expressed concern at the fact that many McGill students remain relatively uninformed about these policies and their problematic social consequences. The motion passed by a relatively close margin, despite strong opposition from Rioux and Chaim.
Also discussed were the results of a recent referendum on sustainability, during which the majority of undergraduates expressed support for the hiring of a full-time Sustainability Coordinator for SSMU.
Councillors debated the relative merits of hiring a coordinator and creating a new executive position of VP Sustainability. In support of the latter, some argued that an elected executive would be more in touch with the needs and ideas of students. No decision was reached, although according to a straw poll taken at the end of the discussion, the majority of councillors supported the idea of a full-time coordinator.