SSMU starts Memorandum of Agreement negotiations

Reclaiming rights to use McGill name for clubs among priorities.

The Students’ Society of McGill University (SSMU) is set to begin negotiations with the McGill administration over the renewal of their Memorandum of Agreement (MoA), a binding document outlining the legal relationship between SSMU and the University.

The MoA is renewed every five years, and the current one is set to expire on May 31, 2016.

This year, for the first time, the VP Finance and Operations is replacing the President in negotiations with the University. Faced with an increased workload following the resignation of both the VP Internal and the General Manager, President Kareem Ibrahim delegated the task of negotiating the MoA to VP Finance and Operations Zacheriah Houston, who will be in charge of negotiations alongside VP University Affairs Chloe Rourke.

“It makes a lot of sense for the VP Finance [and Operations] to be involved, because so much of the MoA is financial,” Houston told The Daily. “A lot of it has to do with how our student fees are dispersed, what fees we pay to McGill and what services we receive in return. The VP Finance [and Operations] has to be very familiar with the MoA.”

“It makes a lot of sense for the VP Finance [and Operations] to be involved, because so much of the MoA is financial.”

In 2011, 132 student clubs underwent name changes as per a controversial clause introduced in the MoA in the very last round of negotiations that restricted student groups’ right to use the McGill name.

Josh Redel, who was the President of the Engineering Undergraduate Society (EUS) during the negotiations in 2011, was disappointed over what he perceived as a lack of student consultation on the part of the executives. In an interview with The Daily, he had said at the time, “Nobody knew it was going to SSMU Council. […] No one knew. Clubs didn’t even know.” The agenda of the Council meeting where the MoA was discussed was not widely publicized.

Asked whether there would be more transparency this year, Ibrahim said that executives are “definitely hoping to involve students in the process.”

“Nobody knew it was going to SSMU Council.”

“We definitely want students to know what we will be negotiating in favour of,” Ibrahim added, despite the fact that negotiations are typically confidential, as per the preference of the University.

Since 2011, many more clubs have been forced to change their names. VP Clubs & Services Kimber Bialik said that over the last year and a half, clubs have been updating their constitutions only to realize their names were incorrect.

“[This] has been causing a number of issues for all of the clubs for their social media presence, their web presence, and what they’re putting on their posters,” said Bialik.

“There does not seem to be a whole lot of rhyme or reason to how that happened or how these categories were determined or why they differ.”

McGill is actually “cracking down,” says Bialik, on clubs that are not meeting the rules set out in the last MoA. Certain clubs have received requests from the University to change their logo – particularly those using the McGill Martlet or crest. As well, many clubs have been forced to add “McGill Students for” at the beginning of their name. Athletics groups are generally not allowed to use the McGill name, except in certain circumstances.

“There are varying levels of strictness on the different clubs which seem relatively arbitrary,” Bialik added. “There does not seem to be a whole lot of rhyme or reason to how that happened or how these categories were determined or why they differ. It’s inconsistently applied among the groups, as well, which is a big grievance the clubs have.”

Negotiation process

Last year’s SSMU President Courtney Ayukawa attempted to open negotiations with the University a year early to ensure they would be resolved within a reasonable timeframe, but the University was unwilling to open the discussion early. At the time, Deputy Provost (Student Life and Learning) Ollivier Dyens had told The Daily, “That’s why we sign agreements – so we don’t re-open them every year.”

According to Houston, current negotiations will focus on the restrictions placed on clubs and SSMU’s operations. Houston cited the example of the University limiting SSMU’s ability to cater on campus.

Rourke and Houston communicated their demands to the University in November, but have yet to receive a response. However, Houston seems hopeful that their demands will be met by the University and that overall negotiations will be finalized before the end of the semester.

“We’d like [to not] have to pass on negotiations to the next execs,” Houston said.