Each term we receive emails telling us to vote in referendums and elections. It’s safe to assume that a majority of students at McGill do not pay attention to emails. The numbers speak for themselves: only 31.4 per cent of the entire undergraduate population voted in last year’s Student Society of McGill University’s (SSMU) election and referendum period, which is barely an improvement on the previous year’s rate.
Why don’t students vote? Well, most students will graduate within three or four years, and the actions of SSMU are unlikely to influence their lives when they leave university. Some might argue that even as students, SSMU does not directly affect their lives. Yet this argument could not be further from the truth.
As a body of elected representatives, SSMU exerts a large influence on student life at McGill. Its mandate makes it the strongest lobbying force for McGill’s undergraduate students. For instance, the SSMU president sits on the Board of Governors (BoG), the most powerful decision-making body at McGill. It is the BoG that ultimately decides what sorts of initiatives are supported and funded; the SSMU president, as a voting member, has the opportunity to voice student concerns to the university administration.
Low turnouts at any kind of election sends a clear message of apathy to those in positions of power. Sloppy, careless, or even exploitative people could easily interpret this to mean that there is little need for them to be accountable or responsible.
SSMU also controls a large budget, used to provide an array of services to its members, including a health and dental plan that aims to make healthcare coverage more accessible and affordable. The most tangible benefit of SSMU is the University Centre, also known as the Shatner building. SSMU plays an intimate role in undergraduate life, but if there are still students who still feel that the organization is irrelevant, isn’t that in itself a problem?
If the entire ‘get your voice heard, it’s your right’ line of argument doesn’t convince you, think of the relationship between you and SSMU as a stakeholder one. At the end of the day, the majority of undergraduate students pay the union $43.97 per term in membership fees. This means that you are entitled to these services.
Low turnouts at any kind of election sends a clear message of apathy to those in positions of power. Sloppy, careless, or even exploitative people could easily interpret this to mean that there is little need for them to be accountable or responsible. If we take vote turnout as a measure, two-thirds of the roughly 20,000 undergraduate students at McGill do not care about what SSMU does, let alone the individual duties of the executives who run the organization.
During the last winter referendum, SSMU proposed a building fee levy in response to an almost twofold increase in rent demanded by McGill. The question didn’t pass, putting various SSMU services in jeopardy because of severe budget constraints.
Consider the fact that these elected representatives are paid a yearly salary of $27,915, regardless of whether they do their job properly.
However, students only learned about the consequences to SSMU services after the referendum question had failed. SSMU executives then tried blame apathetic students, who
apparently should have done the awareness-raising work themselves. There was considerable backlash to SSMU’s handling of the situation, which serves to show how wrong it is to blame student apathy.The executives were careless because they assumed, perhaps rightly, that students were unlikely to engage.
Now, if you wish to waste your money, or if you feel that forty bucks is nothing compared to the rest of your tuition – that’s fine. Nevertheless, consider the fact that these elected representatives are paid a yearly salary of $27,915, regardless of whether they do their job properly. Our money funds the bulk of SSMU activities and staff salaries. Student politicians have a say over our campus life because of our fees – isn’t this an adequate reason for why you should care?
At the end of the day, you are entitled to all kinds of services that SSMU is mandated to provide – be it representation or access to your student centre. It is your responsibility to make sure that SSMU knows you are not apathetic, that you are aware of whatever it is that they are doing, and that there will be backlash if they blame you for their incompetence.
Make student politicians realize the burden of their duty. Hold them accountable.
Cem Ertekin is a U3 Honours Political Science student. To contact him, please email firstname.lastname@example.org.