Since the resignation of Anuradha Mallik in 2017, the Students’ Society of McGill University’s (SSMU) vice-president (VP) Operations and Sustainability position has been vacant. The SSMU Legislative Council approved a motion in January 2022 to remove the position from the SSMU Constitution. The motion, however, was never ratified through a referendum, despite it being the required procedure for amending the SSMU Constitution per section 20 of the governing document.
In an email to The McGill Tribune on behalf of the entire executive team, SSMU President Risann Wright explained the position’s origins and why SSMU has since phased it out.
“The role was established in 2016, following the reorganization of the vice-president (Finance and Operations) role,” Wright wrote. “In 2017, the former VP Operations and Sustainability resigned from the position in the summer, and the Executives and the Board opted to not re-elect the position for that year. Following this, the subsequent cohorts of executives have approved motions to not elect a VP Operations and Sustainability role via the Legislative Council and Board of Directors (BoD), and the responsibilities have been absorbed by the executive committee.”
Ahead of the 2022 SSMU executive election, Alice Clauss, U3 Arts and Science, submitted her nomination packet to Elections SSMU with the intent of running for VP Operations and Sustainability. She was informed, however, that the position would not be included in the election, despite it being mandated by the SSMU constitution to hold a seat on the BoD.
According to Sarah Paulin, 2021-2022 SSMU VP Internal, the VP Operations and Sustainability portfolio needed to be more substantial to warrant a full-time executive role. Paulin explained that the responsibilities of the position were redistributed amongst other executives and full-time SSMU staff to compensate for its removal.
“After […] COVID started, we found […] ways through hiring more full-time staff and redistributing the positions within the executives, that having a VP Operations would just be a financial strain on the company,” Paulin said in an interview with the Tribune. “So we figured, why pay another salary when we’ve already found a way to manage without a [seventh] executive?”
Clauss believes this decision violates SSMU’s constitutional mandate to fill all executive positions or otherwise ratify any motions to amend the constitution through a student referendum. She brought the issue to the SSMU Judicial Board at a hearing on April 5 to determine whether SSMU’s decision not to run the election was unconstitutional and if the role should be reinstated. Six weeks after the hearing, the Judicial Board released their ratified decision, determining that the role would not be reinstated and that SSMU’s decision to not run the position was constitutional. The decision stated, “the Board of Directors’ decision supersedes what is written in the SSMU Constitution.”
In an interview with the Tribune, Clauss said she finds SSMU’s internal structure to be overly bureaucratic and believes that SSMU’s actions demonstrate a lack of accountability.
“It’s really important that our students’ Society is accountable to us; it’s a student society,” Clauss said. “The reason I went through this process is I thought it was important to try to find that accountability there. And then in an ideal outcome, it would have ended up with that role being returned and then having that more focused attention on the environment and sustainability at SSMU.”
Clauss argues that SSMU must dedicate a full-time executive position to adequately address environmental concerns.
“Sustainability is a very important concept right now,” Clauss said. “Imagine all the different sustainability initiatives that could have been happening if it had been […] someone’s sole duty.”
The Tribune reached out to all current SSMU executives to learn more about how the Society has reallocated the VP Operations and Sustainability’s salary and responsibilities, but none responded.