SSMU Legislative Council voted in favour of signing SSMU’s Memorandum of Agreement (MoA) with McGill last Thursday. Council voted not to sign the proposed lease agreement with McGill.
The MoA outlines SSMU’s and McGill’s legal rights and responsibilities to each other. SSMU had been renegotiating the document for over a year, as well as their lease for the Shatner building.
McGill has been seeking to change the names of over 100 student groups on campus, which has been a point of contention in MoA negotiations.
“It has been a long struggle with McGill to get them to accept that students, who go to this University and play a role in student life on campus, should be allowed to use the McGill name,” stated a November 3 memo from SSMU.
During last week’s Council, McGill students in the gallery gathered to express their opposition against signing the MoA.
President of the Engineering Undergraduate Society (EUS) Josh Redel urged Council not to sign the MoA and asked SSMU to stand strong in their bargaining position.
“It is really unfortunate that [the McGill administration] wants to protect their brand, but we are their brand, and I think that it is important that we don’t give in to their disgusting pressure tactics of not willing to sign a lease of a building that is an integral part of the campus,” said Redel.
The Monday before SSMU Council met, EUS held a confidential in-camera session to decide whether to launch a campaign against the administration’s proposed changes to student groups’ names.
Redel authored the motion, and said he wanted it discussed in-camera so the campaign could be “a controlled leak.”
“[We wanted] to make sure that the first thing was this mobilization at [SSMU] Council,” he said on Thursday night.
Redel added that he also wanted authorization from EUS Council before launching the campaign, which started with the lobbying effort at SSMU Council last Thursday.
“There was no discussion against; it was just non-stop discussion of solidarity with [the campaign],” continued Redel.
The campaign – dubbed “We are all McGill” after the subject line of an email that Principal Heather Munroe-Blum sent to students and staff regarding the strike of McGill’s non-academic workers – will feature a letter authored by EUS, as well as letter-writing and petition campaigns.
“We’re looking to get the students to voice their concerns in an easy way – petitions and letter templates – to pull them together and send them to McGill, show them we’re not happy,” said Redel last Thursday night.
After more than four hours of in-camera debate, SSMU Council voted to sign the MoA and accept McGill’s conditions. According to SSMU President Maggie Knight, the decision was not an easy one.
“It was certainly not a unanimous decision… Nobody felt like we had any good options,” said Knight.
“Having spent the last five months trying to get this to be as good as possible, I am not sure how or if we would have been able to achieve anything better by going back to negotiation, which is a very sad thing,” she added.
The day after Council’s vote, Redel said he felt “disappointed” and “disheartened” by the decision, especially given the widespread support the EUS’ campaign received during the discussion of the MoA.
“You’re sitting there and you’re listening to everyone applauding, everything that everybody said, and then it’s 3:15 in the morning and they’ve decided that, ‘Oh, we’re just going to do the opposite.’ I’m really intrigued as to what possibly could have, you know, been more moving,” he said.
“It’s lost,” he added. “Instead of there being 133 names on this campaign – this movement to be able to associate with our University – now it’s one. It’s EUS, and the others are kind of gone.”
According to Redel, EUS had a “refocusing meeting” on Friday morning to alter the “We are all McGill” campaign. Redel said the campaign would now be “a bit more silent.”
“It’s not that we don’t have the power, but we don’t have the voice anymore – and that’s what I tried to say at SSMU Council yesterday, is ‘Once you sign this, you’re not just signing away SSMU clubs. And you’re not signing away SSMU, you’re signing away 132 clubs,’” he said.
Facing their own struggle with the administration over the use of the McGill name in the EUS logo – EUS’ MoA with the University expires next year – Redel said that the SSMU Council vote would affect EUS negotiations with McGill.
“There’s no precedent for not changing the logo now. I’m done, I have so much less bargaining power,” he said.
Redel was also critical of SSMU’s mobilization efforts around the issue, specifically the SSMU Executive’s explanation that it was difficult to mobilize students during negotiations.
“I’m sorry. We’re two months into school. You had two months, and now it’s done, and there’s no excuse for September [and] October.”
He was also disappointed in SSMU’s promotion of the discussion on the vote itself.
“I didn’t know. Nobody knew it was going to SSMU Council,” he said. “Why do you think the only people in the gallery were engineers? It’s because I emailed them, because I found out from a councillor that it’s going to be on the agenda. No one knew. Clubs didn’t even know.”
McGill informed EUS at the beginning of the year about the issue with the use of the McGill name in their logo – instigating the “We are all McGill” campaign – and Redel admitted that he thought they waited too long to mobilize around the larger McGill name issue.
“It was something that could’ve been worked on earlier, and I am a bit disappointed that we didn’t do something sooner or bigger,” he said. “We had always intended to do something as EUS, and I knew that clubs were undergoing changes, but what I was told is it was ten or twenty [clubs].”
“To just kind of give fifteen minutes with a possibility of a five-minute extension to a discussion about something that directly affects 132 groups and sets a precedent across campus is a bit of a sham,” he continued.
“The reason we have a body like SSMU is for this kind of cause, this kind of purpose… Their job isn’t to back down,” he concluded.
The memo from SSMU, distributed to members of the gallery, noted that McGill will be providing $25,000 in financial assistance to clubs and services to assist in the cost of altering names, including new website domain names and rebranding merchandise. However, according to the memo, the financial assistance was contingent on the expense being incurred before November 15.
Though voting to sign the MoA, SSMU Council voted against adopting the lease of the Shatner building, and decided to wait for more information from the administration.
“There was a concern that SSMU had perhaps not received full data on the state of the building that would be necessary, because the new structure would require us to take over the responsibilities of utilities, and there was a concern that it would have ended up being extremely expensive,” Knight said.
SSMU VP Clubs and Services Carol Fraser prepared a nine-page memo describing the nature of the changes mandated for SSMU clubs in the renegotiated MoA. The memo also provided a brief history of negotiations and the University’s rationale behind demanding the name changes – including liability and reputation – concluding that “this statement is only the beginning…of a process of making students’ voices heard during the MoA negotiations.”
Fraser said SSMU is currently in the process of contacting all affected groups about their name changes, adding that all groups who must change their names will be contacted by November 10.
“This entire situation has been difficult for everyone involved,” wrote Fraser. “I myself ran on a campaign position of fighting to retain the use of the McGill name for student groups, and it is something I have kept near to my heart.”
These are the new styles of group names – effective June 1 –approved by the administration, including recent notable examples of name changes:
• McGill Students [insert]
• McGill [insert] Students’ Society
• SSMU [insert]
• [insert] – SSMU
• McGill Students for [insert]
• McGill Students Supporting [insert]
• McGill Students Chapter of [insert]
• [insert] @ McGill
• TVMcGill now TVM: Student Television at McGill
• McGill Walksafe now SSMU Walksafe
• McGill Nightline now (McGill Students) Nightline
• Elections McGill now Elections SSMU