Shatner building fourth floor office reallocation criticized

Clubs bemoan inadequate consultation

Starting this month, the assigned club spaces on the fourth floor of the Shatner building will be converted to general bookable spaces, as reported by the McGill Tribune. This decision was made over the summer by Students’ Society of McGill University (SSMU) VP Clubs and Services Kimber Bialik, in consultation with the SSMU Clubs Representative and Services Representative, giving clubs with existing offices until Thanksgiving weekend to move out of their offices.

Only SSMU clubs have been affected by this decision; SSMU services, such as Queer McGill, the Union for Gender Empowerment, and Elections SSMU, will keep their offices.

One of the clubs affected by this decision is the McGill Outdoors Club (MOC), which is one of the largest student clubs under SSMU, runs the largest non-faculty frosh, and previously had a gear room and office on the fourth floor.

Currently, the MOC is being asked to leave its office, but has been given an extended deadline of May 2016 to move out of their office, but is hoping to keep it.
MOC President and former Daily Editor Chris Mills told The Daily that the MOC’s operations and membership will be heavily affected by this decision, especially in terms of renting out gear to students.

“These two rooms are critical to the operation of the club,” Mills said. “If we didn’t have our gear room we would probably sell our gear and stop doing gear rentals. We would be able to run office hours, but you would see far fewer people becoming members, far fewer people being able to come to trips.”

According to Mills, this is not the only issue the MOC has had with SSMU. Mills said that on May 21 of this year, previous VP Clubs & Services Stefan Fong sent an email to the MOC at 1:17 p.m. giving them overnight notice to move out their gear for renovations. The Shatner building closes at 5 p.m. during the summer, giving the MOC less than four hours to vacate the office.

“[Bialik] knows the importance of the gear room, because over the summer, when we had to move all of our gear out, it was made very clear to SSMU how important this was, how much stuff we had, how critical the gear room was to the operation of the club. They had a very good idea.”

“It came kind of as a surprise. There was barely any lead up to it. So I feel like there was limited communication. […] The past system was more fair than the new one because of the application process.”

According to Mills, SSMU has also been pushing the MOC to become an independent student group (ISG), like the Tribune Publications Society or the Legal Information Clinic, which would require the club to negotiate a lease for office space as a separate entity from SSMU as well as negotiate a Memorandum of Agreement (MoA) with McGill for student fees. Despite a years-long ongoing conversation regarding the MOC becoming an ISG, Mills said that it wasn’t until the beginning of the school year that the MOC was notified of the impending reallocation plans.

“I spent all summer talking to Kimber about potentially becoming an ISG, and about [a] bunch of other things. So it’s [a] fairly deliberate failure to communicate [the fact that] if [we] remain a club [we would] no longer have these offices starting in 2016. It’s exactly the same time we were talking about becoming an ISG [that the fact that we need to leave was mentioned.]”
Jency Zhen, a U2 Finance student and VP Communications of the Hong Kong Student Network (HKSN), claimed that the decision to remove clubs from the fourth floor has been made arbitrarily with limited consultation.

“I don’t think we’ve really gotten a say in this, because it’s mostly been just email notifications on what is going to happen, and not really asking for feedback, asking if this was fair,” Zhen said in an interview with The Daily.

“It came kind of as a surprise. There was barely any lead up to it. So I feel like there was limited communication,” Zhen continued. “The past system was more fair than the new one because of the application process.”

Speaking to The Daily, Bialik argued that the previous system, because it was application based, yielded an inequitable distribution of space. According to Bialik, given the shortage of space in the Shatner building, SSMU could allocate office space to only approximately thirty clubs each year. One specific problem that Bialik mentioned was the arbitrary nature of the phased-out allocation process.

“I absolutely think it’s a fair decision, and I definitely think it’s the direction we need to be moving in.”

“Because all the groups would provide the same reason why they needed an office, there was no coherence in why groups were being granted [an] office. […] It is a very, very inequitable distribution of space as it stands,” Bialik told The Daily.

“The fourth floor of [the Shatner building] is intended to be a community space that benefits all of our student groups. By picking thirty every year that we’re able to offer space to, that really detracts from what the other 200, that get nothing, are […] able to do.”

Mills criticized the consultation process that was undertaken as part of the decision, arguing that sending out a survey was not enough.

“The sole thing that’s pointing to saying that this was a consultation is there was a survey put out last semester. It did not specifically anywhere say ‘what do you think about the idea of taking all the fourth floor and turning them into storage space and taking offices away from everyone?’ It said things like ‘what would you like to see more of?’, ‘check this box for more bookable room space,’ ‘check this box for more booking hours.’ So yes, lots of clubs will check those boxes, [but] we were essentially not consulted about this specific measure.”

Bialik told The Daily that the decision was a result of extensive consultation between the SSMU Clubs Reprsentative, the Service Representatives, and herself.

“It was a difficult situation because the decision needed to be made over the summer. No clubs are active for the most time in the summer, [but] any club that came to speak to me at my office hours, [I] talked to them about it. […] It wasn’t feasible to reach out to everyone individually over the summer,” Kimber said. “A lot of the consultation actually went through the Club representatives to SSMU Council.”

“This decision has been in the works for months now. I absolutely think it’s a fair decision, and I definitely think it’s the direction we need to be moving in. […] I really think that this is a move towards a more equitable distribution of space, and it’s going to benefit so many more groups than we were able to benefit before,” commented Bialik.