Student pols unveil plans
by Eric Smith
Earlier this month, a new slate of Students' Society executives was elected, and the incoming team is already starting work on a series of projects they hope to develop over the summer.
For president-elect Tara Newell, accessibility to post-secondary education remains a top priority. She will be continuing the SSMU's lobbying efforts with the provincial government and the University administration against any further hike in tuition.
And while the society is challenging the administration over the increase in non-tuition charges planned in this year's budget, Newell said, "Our first target is the provincial government. The first thing we can do as a McGill community is lobby against the cut to post-secondary education."
Much of the government lobbying effort will be Lisa Phipps's responsibility. As the new VP External, Phipps will be working closely with CASA (Canadian Alliance of Students' Associations), a national student organization. She also wants to renew SSMU's ties with FÉUQ (Fédération des étudiants et étudiantes universi-taires du Québec), the provincial student lobby. McGill's Students' Society and FÉUQ had parted ways over the provincial body's support of Quebec sovereignty.
One project that Phipps plans to make a priority is an internship program for students. She said she is studying internship programs in some faculties like Engineering to find ways to broaden the availability of work experience to all faculties. According to Phipps, "Arts is the hardest faculty to tackle, because the skills are not as directly transferable."
As VP University Affairs, Elizabeth Gomery will be focusing on students' concerns about the University's academic and administrative priorities. Maintaining academic standards will be a priority for Gomery.
"I'm going to continue to work with the administration so that classes are top notch," she says. "The calendar is getting smaller and smaller. We have to find ways to prepare for cuts without having students suffer as much as they seem to be now."
According to Newell, in addition to lobbying to keep the financial burden on students down, SSMU needs to work on projects to assist students in making ends meet now.
She's exploring the possibility of setting up a student access fund to "make money available to students who have maxed out on available loans and bursaries." And she hopes to expand the availability of work study programs.
Duncan Reid is taking over as VP Finance. He will be responsible for operations at the Student Union building. One of his first priorities will be to set up a copy centre in the building. "It's useful and it's a way to keep money within the McGill community," he says. He will also be working to address student complaints about food quality in the cafeteria and access to the building for the disabled.
"At many hours people in wheelchairs can't even get food in the building," he says. "They need to get an elevator key from the front desk, which is only open until five."
Disabled access is also on the agenda for Sarvesh Srivastava, who will be taking over as VP Internal, responsible for clubs and student activities. He points out that "there are two levels in Gert's (the student pub), but no ramp and there's no Braille on the doors."
Srivastava also plans to make activities more widely publicized through the Web. And he hopes to better coordinate Students' Society activities with those organized by different faculty associations.
In many ways, the incoming executive resembles this year's team. Most of the sitting members saw their choice for a successor win at the polls.
According to Gomery, "In some respects it's a continuation, but not in others. I think we're more willing to work together. There's a level of trust that never existed on last year's executive."
There were some fractious episodes this year that pitted SSMU president Chris Carter against other members of the executive. On next year's executive, says Gomery, "the egos are smaller."
Reid, who was Council Speaker last year, says the relationship between current executive members deteriorated after a harmonious start. "Very few executives start out being fractious," he says, but he adds, "This year, five very dynamic people have all been elected."
Newell agrees. "This executive has similar beliefs to last year's but a different personality. Last year, Council was very adversarial. We're going to try to be much more consensual and deal with everything that comes up situation by situation and case by case."
In the mid-March balloting students also voted on several referendum questions, all of which passed. They approved an additional $30 fee for a building improvement fund. Two-thirds of that fee will be directed to the new Student Services building. Students also voted to include international students in the Society's dental plan.
A third question asked students to give SSMU the mandate to lobby Senate to increase the number of courses available in French at McGill.
Valérie Panet-Raymond, who sponsored the question says "Students come to McGill because they want to study in a multilingual environment. That's the appeal of Montreal. But many leave disappointed because they don't get as much opportunity to use their French as they hoped.
"Twenty per cent of McGill students are francophone. The Principal would like that ratio to increase and I agree," she adds.
Panet-Raymond conceded that the current financial situation makes the creation of new courses difficult but added, "To attract new students, we're going to have to adapt. Classes are getting too large and at some point McGill is going to have to add new courses."