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The Daily’s News team reflects on this year’s SSMU executive

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The SSMU executive has been an adventure for the News editors this year. The team had a strong start, uniting against the closure of the Arch Café. Ultimately, however, a talented executive – readily available to student media – had difficulty overcoming internal divisions, which overshadowed a largely productive and groundbreaking year with dramatic and polarizing internal divisions.

President Zach Newburgh began his term by fending off allegations from the McGill chapter of Solidarity for Palestinian Human Rights in a Judicial Board case, and is ending it amidst threats of a second case leveled by fellow executive Myriam Zaidi. Newburgh has been a visible President all year, and brought the issue of the Arch Café closure to Senate, trying determinedly but unsuccessfully to engage the administration. Reforming the General Assembly was a yearlong goal of Newburgh’s, but his introduction of a motion to abolish the process entirely – and failing to inform three of his fellow executives – was cause for concern (although it has led to attempts at reform), and splintered the executive. The revelation that Newburgh had been working in confidence with internet startup irreparably split the executive, and alienated multiple Councillors. SSMU’s newfound focus on transparency, as well as campus-wide debate about structures of policies and procedures, will help future executives avoid the mistakes that plagued Newburgh’s term.

VP University Affairs Josh Abaki may have been one of the strongest executives this year. Abaki started out the year by helping to form the Student Consultation and Communication Working Group during the Arch Café aftermath, followed through on his campaign promise to extend library opening hours, and, just last week, succeeded in extending 2011-2012 Winter break to January 9. Additionally, he was as unequivocal in his opinion on the Jobbook controversy as any executive. Abaki could have worked to educate students better on the SRI, and questioned McGill’s ad hoc decision to accept pro bono work from two McKinsey and Co. consultants more rigorously, but overall Abaki has been a tireless and effective VP University Affairs.

With his main initiatives being the organization of events like Homecoming and two Four Floors parties, VP Internal Tom Fabian has spent much of the year under The Daily’s radar. Fabian has overseen a complete revamp of frosh activities for next year, changing Frosh to Orientation Week, with a greater focus on leadership and introduction to McGill rather than drinking. Fabian’s engagement with SSMU Council was minimal at best, but he contributed to the division on SSMU Council later in the year, through his defense of Newburgh and his support of the motion to abolish the GA.

In his campaign for VP Finance and Operations, Nick Drew highlighted three main priorities: to streamline the SSMU budget and increase its transparency, negotiate the expiring lease agreementsfor the Shatner Building, and continue ethical investing. Two major campus initiatives under Drew’s purview are Gerts and SSMU Mini Courses, both of which were managed successfully, with the help of a professional marketing consultant. Though a revitalized Faculty Olympics suffered a loss of about $2,000, the event was reported to be money well-spent, and Drew has capably maintained SSMU’s financial security.

VP External Myriam Zaidi has struggled against both student apathy and the stonewalling Quebec government and McGill administration this year, but has enjoyed a great deal of success nonetheless. Her victories include organizing a strong McGill presence at the two biggest tuition hike protests of the year – the December 6 rally in Quebec City and the March 12 rally downtown – and the launch of info-site While Zaidi has been open with the student press all year, she could have made a greater effort to engage with students who are less informed on the issues in her portfolio, and gone to greater lengths to explain why students should protest, instead of just stressing that they should.

With campaign promises focusing on student service and improving student space on campus, VP Clubs and Services Anushay Khan has delivered. In the wake of the Arch Café, Khan was proactive in helping Midnight Kitchen create an ad hoc student lounge and study space in the Shatner ballroom. The portfolio is one that tends to lend itself to concrete results being achieved on alternating years, but Khan has overseen the renovation of the student lounge and the break-out room in Shatner, as well as retrofitting the lighting in the cafeteria to improve its sustainability. She is currently working on a plan to install student-accessible computers within the building, and has worked to protect the McGill name for student clubs and services. Despite a minor hiccup with Midnight Kitchen, when provincial license misunderstandings caused it to be closed for a day, Khan has managed what is possibly the hardest portfolio with the least concern.