Student funding of 24-hour library access discussed at SSMU Council

Building fee, 4Floors safe space, services funding also on agenda

On October 23, the Students’ Society of McGill University (SSMU) held its bi-weekly Legislative Council meeting. Council discussed the use of the Library Improvement Fund, the Shatner building fee, and safe space at 4Floors, and passed a motion in support of the #ConsentMcGill campaign.

Students’ contribution to library operations

Council held a discussion on the Library Improvement Fund, particularly its use to cover the cost of 24-hour library access. According to Library Improvement Fund Coordinator Erin Sobat, around $250,000 of the fund’s total $650,000 goes toward this cost.

“One of the biggest things that I want to have addressed by bringing this forward to Council is that from my impression, at least, students are not widely aware that it’s student money,” said VP University Affairs Claire Stewart-Kanigan.

The Library Improvement Fund, supported by a fee of $8.50 and $4.25 per semester for full-time and part-time students respectively, as well as matched alumni donations, is meant to improve students’ experiences with McGill’s libraries. Many expressed concern that the university was using the fund’s contribution as a means of paying for something that should actually be a regular operating expense.

Councillors also emphasized that students should know that their fees fund 24-hour library access.

“It really seems like if we don’t fund it, 24-hour access will end. I would hate for that to be the way that students find out that their student fees are paying for 24-hour access,” said President Courtney Ayukawa.

Building fund implementation and plebiscite on rent

Council passed a motion approving the creation of the University Building Fund as a result of the building fee having passed in the Fall referendum.

However, a separate motion to hold a plebiscite question regarding the rent of the Shatner building drew intense discussion form councillors. The motion would be a non-binding referendum question to solicit student opinion on whether or not they would like to see a symbolic $1 lease with the University.

Some spoke in favour of the question, arguing that student opinion on the building fee and the lease was important and that soliciting this opinion would be good for SSMU’s relationship with students.

Former Services Representative Élie Lubendo argued that a lack of institutional memory has contributed to rent increases in the past and will likely continue to do so in the future. “The very least we can do is ask students about it, as we should have done a year ago.”

Stewart-Kanigan disputed that the question would lead to a positive reaction from students.

“This is going to create the impression that it is possible to do something about [the lease] right now. […] If we break the lease, McGill will sue us.”

Engineering Representative Scott Conrad also expressed concern about the clarity of the question. “I’m really afraid of this motion because reading it the first time it was really confusing. […] I sit on Council and I’m confused, and we’re going to send this to students?”

“McGill has a huge power dynamic over SSMU and they exercise that in this regard. […] The question is whether [a $1 lease] is feasible – and it is absolutely not,” said VP Finance & Operations Kathleen Bradley.

The motion failed to pass.

Discretionary funding for services

Bradley and VP Clubs and Services Stefan Fong brought forward a motion to amend the Clubs and Services Portfolio By-Law Book to ensure that SSMU services’ discretionary funding – funding given by services to a third-party organization – goes to projects that have a direct impact on students and fall in line with the services’ mandates. The motion was amended so that the VP Clubs and Services and the VP Finance and Operations would have to present a breakdown of discretionary funding usage every semester.

Some councillors voiced concern about services losing autonomy over their funds. However, Bradley emphasized that accountability to students is key.

“As far as policing [the services], I have to say: I don’t care. It’s not their money, they are responsible to a body of people that pays them. They have a responsibility to be accountable to that body and to show them what they’re doing with that money. I don’t think it’s an unreasonable step at all,” said Bradley.
Arts Representative Patrick Dunbar-Lavoie expressed reservations about the effectiveness of the proposed change. “I think that many of us have little to no expertise in the area, and something that may be good in [theory] can be very unproductive and a waste of time. […] Accountability is only good when it is effective.”

The motion was tabled until the next Council meeting.

4Floors security pat-downs

Council also discussed security pat-downs for the upcoming 4Floors event, to be held by SSMU on October 30. Arts Representative Lola Baraldi said that, when discussing the possibility of having one male and one female security guard form two separate pat-down lines, security was not very receptive to the idea of having students choose from either line regardless of their own gender or gender presentation, due to potential risk or discomfort for security personnel.

At last year’s event, there were separate lines for men and women, although VP Internal J. Daniel Chaim pointed out that they were not enforced very strictly.

Stewart-Kanigan was not pleased with the security’s response. “This is an extremely poor standard for SSMU and I am extremely disappointed with this outcome,” she said, noting that gendered pat-down lines undermined the SSMU Equity Policy, and that gendered lines were not the standard at other venues like airports and concerts.

Chaim said that Council’s concerns would be relayed to security.

Other motions

A motion was passed in support of the #ConsentMcGill campaign, held from October 20 to 24. While the motion itself did not include a mandate, Stewart-Kanigan noted that she would be happy for SSMU to mandate her to put aspects of the motion into a policy.

A motion to include a fee levy for the Black Students’ Network in the second Fall 2014 referendum was approved. If the fee passes, the group will be supported by the fee and will refund its SSMU subsidy.

Councillors also took time to discuss the previous day’s SSMU General Assembly (GA), generally agreeing that the GA went well considering the high number of attendees and the Shatner building’s capacity. Many expressed concern over the confusing nature of Robert’s Rules, and a popular suggestion for the next GA was to have councillors and other SSMU representatives made more visible during the event in order to field questions from students.

A motion regarding the inclusion of a plebiscite question on a preferential ballot system for SSMU elections – also discussed at the GA – for the Winter 2015 referendum to gage student interest also passed.

—With files from Sabrina Xuan