McGill Tribune: What qualifies you for the position of President?
Chris Bangs: I started my career working with SSMU as the founder of the Independent Student Inquiry. We were a completely autonomous student group; we worked closely with the VP University Affairs, and VP Clubs & Services Alison Cooper was another founder of it, so I had this perspective as an outside student group that worked for SSMU support, and worked for students that way. Now, I’m campaigns coordinator for SSMU, I work with the Equity, Sustainability, Environmental commissioners, et cetera. I’ve worked with all six portfolios to get things done, and I’ve been very lucky to build these strong connections across [the] university. Also I’m on the bylaw review committee, so we are re-writing the constitution right now, getting into what the SSMU governing documents actually are, and that’s a huge portion of the president’s role.
MT: Based on this experience in the last year, what’s the most glaring issue that you think you’ll have to deal with next year?
CB: The lease. I don’t have any more information than the average student, so I hope that’ll get resolved this year, and they say that it will.
MT: They said that last year too.
CB: Yeah, it’s been three years now, so we’ll see. It could be a glaring issue. But I think the largest one, and the one that’s on students’ minds the most is these budget cuts and this tuition hike. The combination of them, I think, is really disastrous for McGill, for McGill students, and for the university system as a whole.
That’s something I really want to work with: [trying] to stop the hike and the cuts, and then working within McGill to make sure [that] if we have to have the funding cuts, they’re done in an equitable and fair way. I want to make sure that the cuts, if they have to go through, are maybe more confined to expenses like lawyers’ fees and administrators … not contributing to student life or faculty on campus.
MT: Do you have any specific plans for how you’d ensure that, or how you’d work toward that?
CB: First of all, making sure that student senators and faculty associations aren’t trying to prioritize their departments over others, and so [I’m thinking of ] having a policy passed that would be like: “if there are cuts to students’ livelihoods, and to the things that matter to us, they need to be distributed equally, and we want those to be as few as possible.” … I think that people in campus and labour unions were really impressed last year when so many students supported MUNACA in the labour dispute. And so, if we have someone elected who has these connections and history with them … we can get everyone on the same page, and find the things that we agree on, so we can have a united front when we go to the university.
MT: Last year, you played a big role in the Independent Student Inquiry, so how do you foresee actually working with the administration rather than creating something that’s separate from their own policies?
CB: Clearly, the Independent Student Inquiry was independent of McGill, but it wasn’t independent in the context of opportunities to engage. As we worked with the VP UA, we met with the principal, we met with the Deputy Provost Student Life and Learning [Morton J.] Mendelson, Dean Manfredi—who was conducting a review of the provisional protocol—to talk about it with them. I am working very closely with the Board of Governors right now, with Divest McGill, and I probably, as President, would sit on the Board of Governors, and [I’m am] the student, outside of the students on the Board of Governors right now, who has the most experience actually dealing with the body. And so I think that I have very strong allies there, I’ve worked closely with them, and I think that I’m going to approach it with cautious optimism. Especially in the context of the new principal and the new [Deputy Provost Student Life and Learning].
MT: I think one of the issues that always come up is improving the points of contact we have with student government—things like the GA, making them more accessible to students, or encouraging students to actually participate in them. Where would you see your emphasis on that?
CB: I think that there are two problems. Some of the reasons students don’t participate is because they just don’t know that it’s happening, and so sort of reaching out and giving a sort of basic understanding of what’s going on is definitely necessary, and that’s something we can do much better. We have this huge building, but we don’t really do anything on the outside of it. So I would be interested in seeing large informational material as banners hanging on the outside.
And beyond that I think that the [other] problem this year is that there’s been almost no communication about what’s going on that’s really big in the SSMU world. We need to talk about new channels to engage people, which I think is probably important. I [also] think it’s fundamental to talk about actually [making more SSMU] information public. I think that [not making information easily available is] pretty endemic throughout everything that SSMU does.
MT: What are the most important ways that your platform differs from your opponent’s?
CB: She has a focus on mental and physical health, and I think that’s really great. I think that what I’m most excited about is how to translate these vague ideas into very concrete things. So when I’m talking about mental health, I [have] two very concrete things I want to do:
The first one would be to have a 13 cents per semester, mental health fund, so that would raise $6000 a year, and that could go to fund things that come out of this program but also things like student research and conferences, puppy petting in the library, special support for students with disabilities or disadvantaged students, etc. The other idea is, a motion, or a referendum question [because] student services are paid for entirely by students, McGill doesn’t pay for it at all … they don’t provide any direct funding. And so they charge about 1.5 per cent of the money that students give to student services … and they’re going to try to raise that by a couple of percentage points, and so half the money that we are giving to student services is going straight to James Admin, instead of things that we need. I would want to see, in the future, referendum questions like that come up. So instead of it being McGill giving us the choice of either raising the fees and then having the students pay more and have it go straight to James Admin [or] seeing our services get cut drastically, I’d want to give the choice to support these really great frontline services [without raising the] percentage fee that [the university is] charging.
MT: Is there anything else you’d like to mention?
CB: I want to address one thing. I don’t know if you have all seen the Bull and the Bear article yet. There’s an article published saying that I’m deleting comments on my Facebook page, or whatever, and I just want to address that I’m writing something that I’m going to send over to them. Some of the comments I received were very hateful. Some of them were like ‘I heard Chris Bangs hates black people.’ Stuff like that, and so obviously I’m going to delete those. And other things were comments that I did address the first time they came up, I answered them fully and then people would just keep on posting them and posting them and posting them. I didn’t necessarily want to have to engage with people who aren’t willing to have that actual discussion. And so I’m going to be publishing something about that but I just wanted to clear that up.
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