Commentary | Hyde Park: We’re spending $120,000 on that?

Another year, another SSMU election. And as usual, nobody cared.

This year’s explosion of indifference saw approximately 24,000 undergraduates cast just 3,631 ballots: a whopping 15.1 per cent voter turnout.

Then again, since four out of the six exec positions up for grabs were acclaimed, a more accurate representation of how little SSMU means to undergrads is that, out of all possible votes, only 4.5 per cent were cast.

In an election marred with such evident voter apathy, new president Ivan Nielson’s impressive capture of 50.8 per cent of the vote actually translates to his winning a mere 7.7 per cent of the total undergraduate population’s endorsement. Sorry, Ivan, but the percentage of McGill undergrads who want you to be president is equivalent to the percentage of Canadians currently out of work.

How ironic, then, that the SSMU election found jobs for six people who would have likely been unemployed next year – jobs that come with a salary of over $20,000, no less. With the job market like it is, and undergraduate degrees in their rucksacks, the six U3s who presented themselves for election to the SSMU Executive would have been wandering the streets next year were it not for the thoughtfulness of a miniscule proportion of the student population. Now four of those six, along with two lucky youngsters, are going to be making three-fourths of what the average Canadian makes in a year. That is, of Canadians who still have their jobs. Well played, SSMU, well played.

Unfortunately, I don’t think that each SSMU exec deserves $20,000 of their constituents’ ever-increasing tuition. First of all, an executive’s involvement in SSMU is no less arduous or meaningful than the extra-curricular dedication of countless other McGill students to countless other organisations, charities, or sports teams. McGill students involve themselves in extra-curricular activities because they take pride in their ability to effect change in people’s lives, however small and in whatever capacity. They involve themselves beyond academics because they realise that they can learn great values and acquire tremendous skills outside of a classroom, because they see that the world doesn’t play itself out inside of a textbook. And, yes, they become involved in impressive sounding enterprises that may or may not actually do anything because they know that a well-padded résumé will make them more marketable to perspective employers. But none of these students receive $20,000 as a benefit of their extra-curricular involvement, and few get to pad their C.V. like the SSMU execs do.

Secondly, SSMU is probably less important and less consequential than many of the aforementioned organisations, charities, or sports teams. The recent voter turnout and the consistently poor attendance at General Assemblies (GAs) speak volumes to SSMU’s irrelevance among students, and suggest that SSMU should try to do something of import. This year’s GA motion on an actual issue – sorry, No Pants Fridays doesn’t count – was a good start, but the general student indifference towards SSMU certainly does not merit a $20,000 salary for its execs.

Lastly, the current economic climate has put substantial pressure on universities to either cut back on services or increase tuition. Not wanting to do either, Principal Heather Munroe-Blum recently established the Administrative Task Force on Dealing with Economic Uncertainty, which calls on students, faculty, and staff to suggest ways for McGill to cut costs while maintaining its high academic standing.

SSMU should follow the administration’s lead and stop paying each SSMU exec a salary of over $20,000. The $120,000 that students would save could be much better spent on innumerable things, like providing every student with a foot-long Subway sub. I can guarantee that more than 15.1 per cent of students would show up to Free Subway Day.

I also urge the new SSMU execs to consider their responsibility to their constituents and to McGill, and to refuse their $20,000 salaries. In doing so, the SSMU exec board would finally be able to show real leadership, unrivalled commitment to McGill’s well-being, and true dedication to the student body’s best interests.

Jake Heller is a U2 History student and can be reached at jake.heller@mail.mcgill.ca. To see how he came up with that 4.5 per cent marker, see mcgilldaily.com.


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