Commentary  Hyde Park: SSMU works damn hard

As someone who has worked closely with this year’s SSMU exec, I found Jake Heller’s Hyde Park (“We’re spending $120,000 on what?”, March 30) to be ill-informed. As a philosophy major, I found his argument that SSMU executives don’t deserve their salaries to be more than a little lacking.

This year’s exec was one of the hardest-working I’ve seen in my five years at McGill, and their commitment to represent students’ interests should be commended. It’s unfortunate that every student doesn’t get to observe first-hand how hard they’ve worked for us; they’d see that they’ve gotten their money’s worth this year. The issues the 2008-09 exec has dealt with could have seemed overwhelming for even the most seasoned politician – student or professional – but Kay Turner, Nadya Wilkinson, Sam Cook, Devin Alfaro, and Julia Webster repeatedly juggled multiple challenges and concerns from the administration; provincial, federal, and municipal governments; on- and off-campus interest groups; and individual students. They did it all with grace, class, and always with students’ best interests in mind.

The implication that SSMU executives should not be paid would create a barrier to entry that would prevent lower-income or financially independent students from being able to work for SSMU. The work involved in being a SSMU exec is more than a full-time job; being a student and a SSMU exec at the same time (as one is constitutionally mandated to do) leaves pretty much no opportunity to pursue other means of income.

No offence to people whose parents are able to support them, but limiting potential SSMU execs to those who come from specific backgrounds is exactly what students don’t need, especially in difficult economic times. We need representatives who know the value of a dollar and are willing to fight to keep our tuition low because they know how difficult it can be for some people to come up with enough money to stay in school.

People who have had to support themselves financially, even partially, typically have valuable skills they’ve acquired while working. Like Heller said in his Hyde Park, work experience, just like other extra-curriculars, leads one to “acquire tremendous skills outside of a classroom, because [a person can] see that the world doesn’t play itself out inside of a textbook.”

I think it’s probably a good thing to have SSMU executives with work experience, wouldn’t you agree? If so, I think we can both admit that asking SSMU execs to forfeit their salaries – thus limiting SSMU execs to a small pool of those who are financially able to not work while in university – would be counterproductive. Having talented executives is worth paying for; even The Daily gives its editors honoraria.

As Speaker of Council, I’ve been able to see the inner-workings of SSMU first-hand, and been privileged to work with some really talented and dedicated individuals. I’d encourage anyone who questions the value of SSMU to get involved. As a financially independent student for the last three years, I can tell you there’s absolutely no way I, or anyone in my financial situation, would have been able to be a SSMU exec without a living-wage salary. Heller, if you want to volunteer for SSMU, I’m sure someone around the office could find you something to do. For those of us who can’t afford to volunteer, there are positions with stipends available as well.

Jordan Owens is a U3 Philosophy student and was this year’s Speaker of SSMU Council. She can be reached at