The Tariq Khan Drama
The Students’ Society of McGill University (SSMU) saw its fair share of the short-lived SSMU President Tariq Khan this year. Elections SSMU invalidated Khan’s election as SSMU President on April 1, 2014 – a week after he was elected president by a margin of only 78 votes – due to SSMU bylaw infractions committed during his campaign. The violations included the participation of individuals external to SSMU in his campaign, the sending of unsolicited text messages to the public – for which he had been censured on March 21, the last day of the campaign period – inconsistencies in campaign expenditures, and the impingement of the spirit of a fair campaign and of the voting process.
Following his invalidation, Khan filed an appeal with the SSMU Judicial Board (J-Board), which upheld his invalidation on April 29. Khan later took this issue to the Superior Court of Quebec and filed a request on May 29 for a preliminary injunction to reinstate him as SSMU President until the full hearing for a permanent injunction. The Court dismissed his application on June 3, reasoning that his reinstatement would have incurred additional costs and caused undue inconvenience on the part of SSMU. Khan later withdrew his court case in October before its full hearing due to financial motivations and the decreasing timeliness of the case.
Khan resurfaced on the first day of the 2015-16 SSMU elections when screenshots of a Facebook conversation were released on reddit, revealing recently-elected SSMU President Kareem Ibrahim’s suggestion to hack Khan’s Facebook account last year. Upon news of the screenshots, he revealed his intentions to update the police report that he filed after his account was allegedly hacked on March 27, 2014.
Campus unions get moving
Compared with 2011’s McGill University Non-Academic Certified Association (MUNACA) strike, the past few years have been fairly quiet on the union front. This year, however, has seen a flurry of activity at McGill unions.
Floor fellows began a union drive over a year ago in November 2013, driven by the University’s earlier push for a change in residence models. Since then, floor fellows have succeeded at forming a union, and joined the Association of McGill University Support Employees (AMUSE) last May. The process, however, has not been without hiccups: this January,collective agreement negotiations between the University and the floor fellows bargaining unit stalled over the exclusion of the “core values” of floor fellows (namely their anti-oppressive mandate and harm reduction approach) from the proposed agreement. The negotiations have started again and are currently ongoing.
McGill’s Teaching Union, AGSEM, has also been working to unionize undergraduate teaching support staff, which include course graders, note-takers, and teaching assistants (TAs). Despite receiving support from post-grads and undergrads, the process has not been without tensions: McGill challenged AGSEM’s promotion of its own union campaign due to disputing interpretations of the Quebec Labour Code. At the date of publication, the union drive is still ongoing.
This year also saw a merger between AMUSE and MUNACA, despite some internal trepidation over their differing sizes. Joint bylaws are on the way.
“I cannot celebrate the status quo of mental health support at McGill.”
The mental health landscape at McGill for the 2014-15 academic year has been a disappointing one. Though a working group was struck under the purview of Senate in October 2013, most of the recommendations issued by the group in June 2014 have yet to be implemented. Of the 36 initiatives on the roster, only two have been completed, the first being the development of a student services app, and the second publicly presented only as “further [development] of a robust early alert program.”
While both the administration and student government have been pursuing mental health services reform, they do not appear to be working closely. SSMU VP University Affairs Claire Stewart-Kanigan told The Daily in October, around the time the University announced its intention to create a ‘wellness portal,’ that the relationship between the two was “a consultative arrangement, not a partnership. Given that SSMU is named as a partner on the website, consultation is not enough.”
There have been no updates on the ‘wellness portal,’ projected to be launched in Winter 2015.
Most of the visible events that have taken place this year – in particular, the second annual Students In Mind conference on mental health in October and the Mental Health Awareness Week in November – were largely student-driven and student-led initiatives. Additionally, the most vocal advocates for mental health reform have been students.
In addition to managing the planning and execution of the Mental Health Awareness Week, Stewart-Kanigan oversaw the successful launch of SSMU’s new mental health department, which involved the hire of a coordinator and the development of a mental health listserv to promote peer and professional support services for students and forward student-led anti-stigma initiatives.
Tense debates at General Assemblies
After years of SSMU General Assemblies (GAs) that have failed to reach quorum or present particularly political motions, portions of this year’s GAs saw huge turnout – with over 700 students attending the Fall 2014 GA and over 500 students at the Winter 2015 GA – as well as plenty of controversy.
Most notably, both GAs saw motions that poked at the long-dormant Israel-Palestine divide on campus. At the Fall 2014 GA, a motion to stand in solidarity with the people of the occupied Palestinian territories and condemn Israel’s violence toward Palestine over the summer was postponed indefinitely, with 402 in favour and 337 against, after hours of debate. At the Winter 2015 GA, a motion to divest from companies profiting from the illegal occupation of the Palestinian territories garnered the endorsement of many campus groups (including The Daily), but failed by only 64 votes.
Despite the intense attention given to these two motions, a number of other political motions passed, mandating SSMU to take action on diverse issues such as unpaid internships, military research, climate change, and austerity. SSMU also saw a J-Board challenge after the contentious postponement of the Fall 2014 Palestine motion, where the judicial body ruled that simplified standing rules should be adopted and publicized at GAs to better facilitate debate.
More broadly, this year’s GAs have prompted a campus-wide (and still ongoing) dialogue on the political role of the student union – which most notably played itself out in the recent 2015-16 SSMU executive elections – with some students questioning whether SSMU should take stances on ‘divisive’ political issues.
Students against austerity
This year has seen a whirlwind of opposition against austerity measures and budget cuts set in place by the Liberal provincial government, which have reduced funding to social services, including welfare, healthcare, and education. In the fall, as part of an ongoing push that began even before this academic year, students at UQAM organized a group to allow students and community members to work together to protest these cuts: the Comité Printemps 2015, which helped mobilize around 80,000 students to go on strike on Halloween, and over 80,000 students planned to strike against austerity during March and April. This mobilization has not evaded McGill, as French language and literature students recently voted to go on strike for a week, and other departments have planned strike votes.
These student initiatives contrast with the stance taken by the McGill administration, which has been accommodating of austerity measures. McGill has been making cuts of its own, after undergoing $45 million in cuts from the provincial government over the last four years. The results of these cuts have been felt by workers at McGill, as the administration has set up a hiring freeze, decreasing the number of jobs available, and increasing the workloads of many employees. To combat the administration’s decrease in the number of full-time jobs at McGill, as well as the fact that many positions with benefits have been replaced with lower-paid, part-time jobs that do not receive benefits, AMURE recently voted to start a fund for counselling services for its members.
In response to the austerity measures taken by both McGill and the Quebec government SSMU and the Post-Graduate Students’ Society (PGSS) have taken stances against the government’s measures and asked McGill to oppose these huge cuts. At the SSMU Fall 2014 GA, students voted to add advocating against austerity to the portfolio of the VP External, and SSMU has since hosted an anti-austerity activities night to show students just how wide-reaching the damaging effects of austerity can be.
Sustainability at McGill
Many important initiatives that began in previous years were continued and strengthened over the course of this one. Divest McGill helped organize a bus to take McGill and Concordia students to the People’s Climate March in New York City, where over 400,000 people marched in the streets of Manhattan to protest the United Nations Climate Summit and raise awareness about global warming. Divest also submitted a new petition for McGill to divest from fossil fuel companies to the Board of Governors (BoG), making a comeback two years after its first petition was presented to, and rejected by, the BoG. In addition, over 100 faculty members signed on to an open letter submitted to the BoG in support of divestment.
SSMU also continued its efforts to promote sustainability on campus, starting a composting program in the Shatner building, and joining Étudiant(e)s contre les oléoducs (ÉCO), after the a motion passed at the Fall 2014 GA that mandated SSMU to stand alongside groups combatting climate change.
Finally, the McGill Office of Sustainability launched its Vision 2020 program, an initiative aiming to create a more sustainable McGill by the year 2020.