Nine months after the dissolution of the St. Michael’s College Student Union (SMCSU), the St. Michael’s College (SMC) administration is moving to create a new union with seemingly less autonomy than its predecessor.
Earlier this year, the SMC administration chose six of the college’s highly-involved students to form a “re-imagining committee,” the goal of which was to build a new framework and guidelines for future councils following the dissolution of the student union in December 2016.
In 2016, the union was mired in controversy after a Snapchat video that was criticized as Islamaphobic and that implicated current and former members of SMCSU went viral. The video led to the resignation of Vice-President Kevin Vando. President Zachary Nixon resigned from SMCSU weeks later, although Nixon was not involved in the video.
In addition, a financial audit of the union started in July 2016 and released in summary in March 2017 detailed kickbacks, falsified invoices, and inappropriate expenditures on behalf of members of the union.
Structure of the new union
A report, released by the re-imagining committee in April, outlines the changes made to the structure of the new student union.
The new SMCSU will comprise of nine voting members: President, Vice-President, VP Finance, VP Communications, VP Community Life, VP Academic Affairs, VP Arts, VP Athletics, and VP Religious and Community Affairs. This structure differs slightly from how the union was structured in the past: the executive consisted of just a President and Vice President, supported by eight commissions, which were led by a Commissioner and, in some cases, also an Officer. The commissions of the old SMCSU were the Double Blue Commission, which ran events, Finance Commission, Religious & Community Affairs Commission, Education & Government Commission, Community Life Commission, Arts Commission, Communications Commission, and Athletics Commission.
UTSU Representatives as well as Senior Residence and Commuter Dons, among others, will be invited to attend one of the two monthly meetings but will not have voting rights. The University of St. Michael’s College Administrative Advisor, a non-voting member, will attend all scheduled meetings as an ex-officio.
SMC President David Mulroney requested the delay of the elections from April to the fall of 2017 in order to draft a student code of conduct. “It is now clear to me that, in addition to having a money problem, SMCSU also had a people problem,” he wrote in a blog post. Mulroney said that interviewing the members of SMCSU revealed their engagement in hazing and other “disrespectful and harmful behaviour” during last year’s fall and spring retreats.
Criticism from the re-imagining committee
According to the re-imagining committee’s report, students planning to run and hold office are now required to maintain a CGPA of at least 2.5, model good citizenship, and demonstrate responsibility and respectful behaviour. According to Haseeb Hassaan, a member of the re-imagining committee, Georgina Merhom, former UTSU SMC Director, and Jeremy Hernandez-Lum Tong, SMCSU’s Religious and Community Affairs Commissioner in 2016, are two of the prospective candidates running for President this fall — though neither Merhom nor Hernandez-Lum Tong confirmed this.
The committee also decided that, in addition to their statement at the Annual General Meeting in March, future SMCSU councils will be required to present a budget report publicly at the beginning of the fall semester. Expenses that exceed $500 will need to be co-signed by the USMC Administrative Advisor.
“There’s no way anyone could embezzle money this year just because of how much control SMC admin is going to have over them,” Hassaan said in an interview with The Varsity.
Hassaan stated that most of the student members’ suggestions were not taken into account. This led him to assume that the formation of the committee was merely an attempt to get the students’ “stamp of approval” on decisions the administration had already made.
“I do feel like I was used by admin [as] more of a showpiece than anything,” Hassaan said. He believes that, as the only Muslim and non-Catholic member on the committee, he was chosen because of the video controversy regarding actions by Kevin Vando and a former member of SMCSU, Sara Gonsalves, which were called Islamophobic.
Hassaan proposed adding a VP Equity position to the prospective council to protect and represent minority students, but his suggestion was not approved.
Hassaan claimed that the new student union will likely have less autonomy in relation to SMC. As an example, he added that this year’s frosh lip-sync contest was overseen by the college to ensure the songs were appropriate. “If they’re that involved in something like a lip sync contest at orientation week, I can only imagine how they’re going to be with SMCSU this year.” He stated that SMC’s frosh was organized by Oriana Bertucci, Director of Student Life at the college, and not a student.
SMC is expected to announce more information about the election of its reformed student union in the coming days.
Stefan Slovak, a spokesperson for the SMC Administration, did not respond to The Varsity’s repeated requests for comment.
Georgina Merhom and Jeremy Hernandez Lum-Tong did not respond to The Varsity’s requests for comment either.
Editor’s Note (September 12): This article has been updated to clarify that Zachary Nixon was not implicated in the leaked video that was criticized as being Islamophobic.
Editor’s Note (September 14): This article has been updated to add that the prospective candidacies of Georgina Merhom and Jeremy Hernandez-Lum Tong are according Haseeb Hassaan. Neither Merhom or Hernandez-Lum Tong have confirmed Hassaan’s comments.