On Thursday, October 20, the Students’ Society of McGill University (SSMU) Legislative Council convened for the fourth time in the 2016-2017 academic school year. Councilors heard two guest presentations, one from the Office of the Deputy Provost (Student Life and Learning) (DPSSL), and one from the Library Improvement Fund Commissioner, as well as a report from SSMU VP University Affairs Erin Sobat regarding unpaid internships at McGill.
Six motions were passed, including a motion to endorse CKUT’s existence referendum question, a motion regarding Midnight Kitchen existence referendum question, a motion regarding the creation of a Musicians Collective Fee, and a motion regarding the free menstrual hygiene products policy.
Council also passed a motion regarding the free menstrual hygiene products fee and health and hygiene products fund referendum question, and a motion to approve the 2015-2016 audited financial statements.
Library Improvement Fund Commissioner Malcolm McClintock gave a presentation on current library projects and the Library Improvement Fund’s work so far this year. One of McGill libraries’ main projects in the next several years will be the “Fiat Lux,” a re-imagining of the Mclennan-Redpath library complex. This includes a proposed robotic storage center housed under Lower Field that will free up space for students to study.
“Thirty per cent of the books haven’t been checked out in twenty years now,” McClintock noted.
“It might not be for our generation of students at McGill, it might not be for the next generation at McGill, but it’s something that is worthwhile,” he added.
McClintock also discussed that the Library Improvement Fund is providing more amenities to make students’ time in libraries more enjoyable and helpful, such as charging stations throughout the libraries.
“We are looking into specifically more space diversity, as well as […] making sure that all these resources and libraries are really relevant to everybody,” he said.
McGill Mental Health
Following his presentation, which highlighted his office’s projects and efforts toward ongoing issues regarding mental health at McGill, Deputy Provost (Student Life and Learning) Ollivier Dyens summarized his thoughts on the state of mental health at the University, in response to a question from VP Student Life Elaine Patterson.
“We want to create the healthiest possible learning environment,” he said.
Creating such an environment necessitates providing students with faster access to mental health and counselling services, he elaborated. Recently, the University implemented a stepped care approach to mental health.
“We know that there’s actually eighty per cent or so of cases that just need one intervention,” he said. “We’re trying to make this a much quicker process so students get that one intervention as quickly as they can.”
“We want to create the healthiest possible learning environment.”
He further noted that improving mental health requires McGill to review its policies, particularly relating to how it assesses students’ needs, and that greater education within the community (including professors, faculty, and staff) is necessary “to understand, recognize, and not ostracize people with these issues.”
Midnight Kitchen’s discretionary funding
A motion was also brought forward to Council regarding Midnight Kitchen’s existence referendum question. The motion asked undergraduate students whether they “agree to the renewal of the opt-outable Midnight Kitchen Fee of $3.35 per student per semester […] with the understanding that a majority ‘no’ vote will result in the termination of all undergraduate fee-levy funding to Midnight Kitchen […]”
It further asked if students supported Midnight Kitchen in continuing to offer up to twenty per cent of its fee budget in discretionary funding to projects that fall under its political mandate.
“We’re trying to make this a much quicker process so students get that one intervention as quickly as they can.”
Councilors voiced concern regarding this part of the motion, noting that Midnight Kitchen has a recurring budgetary surplus. Midnight Kitchen is a non-profit organization, and should therefore theoretically be breaking even financially.
However, a representative from Midnight Kitchen explained that the surplus was the result of previous members not buying necessary kitchen equipment, such as ovens. The collective is currently working on infrastructure improvements, which will lead to a decrease in the surplus.
VP External David Aird noted that “a lot of organizations function [with a rollover fund]. [So] it does remain a non-profit and […] there are things like capital projects that they can’t accommodate on a yearly budget.”
According to Midnight Kitchen’s budget, it does not typically spend the full twenty per cent of the budget available for discretionary funding, and thus councilors were concerned about asking students to support this part of the motion.
Engineering Representative Richard (Tre) Mansdoerfer expressed his discomfort with discretionary funding. “The expectation is that [students] pay for services,” he said. “I don’t think it makes sense to have discretionary funding for any SSMU service.”
Engineering Representative Tristan Renondin brought forth a motion to change the Midnight Kitchen’s discretionary funding from “up to 20 per cent” to “10 per cent.” This motion passed with three abstentions and none against.
“I don’t think it makes sense to have discretionary funding for any SSMU service.”
Following this, the existence referendum question motion passed with 75 per cent of the councilors in favor, 21 per cent against, and four per cent abstaining.
Free menstrual hygiene products
The free menstrual hygiene products policy will provide pads and tampons, among other products, to those students who need them across campus. Patterson explained the products will be distributed at Healthy McGill kiosks across campus, as well as in the gender neutral and gendered bathrooms.
Arts Representative Maria Thomas spoke in favour of the policy, saying “I think having all these availabilities on campus will be really helpful with the stigma about having a period.”
The motion passed with four per cent of councilors abstaining, which led to Council adopting the policy.
However, the motion regarding the menstrual hygiene products fee and health and hygiene products fund referendum question generated more debate. The motion asks students if they support the creation of a non-opt-outable fee of $0.90 per semester per student to supply menstrual hygiene products to students across campus starting Winter 2017.
“I think having all these availabilities on campus will be really helpful with the stigma about having a period.”
SSMU President Ben Ger noted that at the last council meeting, many councilors were concerned about the amount of the fee. The fee is now lower, as it previously accounted for twenty tampons as well as twenty pads per cycle. It now accounts for ten of each type of product, and “we can then start to gauge after the first year to see which product was used more and increase the purchase of [that] product,” he said.
He further noted that any surplus money from the fee would go toward a separate fund to be reserved to purchase alternative products, such as DivaCups.
Senate Caucus Representative Joshua Chin noted that the motion claims up to 56 per cent of undergraduate students will use the products, but the budgetary calculations accounted for fifty per cent of students using them.
SSMU VP Finance Niall Carolan addressed the budgetary issue, explaining that he discovered after calculating the budget that 56 per cent was more accurate, for which he apologized. But he said he does not believe it will have an impact on the purpose of the fee.
“I think it’s more important that we make a commitment to reevaluate where money is being spent and making sure that it is being spent in the most efficient way possible,” he said.
Science Representative Ashby Gangaram asked for the reasoning behind making the fee non-opt-outable.
Carolan explained that the percentage of students who opt out of fees fluctuates each year, and purchasing products on this scale requires advanced planning. As such, “having the kind of stability of knowing exactly how much money year over year will be available greatly eases our purchasing plan and makes the fund much more manageable.”
“I think it’s more important that we make a commitment to reevaluate where money is being spent and making sure that it is being spent in the most efficient way possible.”
SSMU VP University Affairs Erin Sobat also noted that “there’s a lot of people on campus who wouldn’t use this and don’t want to pay for it. Part of the suggestion is that men or others who don’t menstruate shouldn’t [be able to] opt out of this.” The motion passed unanimously.