Samantha Douek to lead new, “re-imagined” SMCSU

Election results released October 17, three spots vacant on council

Samantha Douek to lead new, “re-imagined” SMCSU

Samantha Douek is the new President of the St. Michael’s College Student Union (SMCSU), the union’s first since it underwent a “re-imagining” process after its dissolution in December 2016. The election results were released on October 17.

The voting period for students at St. Michael’s College (SMC) ran on October 11–15. The new council will consist of six members, most of whom have not been part of SMCSU before. There remain three empty spots on the council for which there were no candidates.

The Varsity has obtained only the online results of the election. According to Chief Reporting Officer Erin McTague, there were 410 online ballots and two paper ballots cast. The results of the paper ballots are excluded from The Varsity’s count.

Douek defeated Jeremy Hernandez-Lum Tong, SMCSU’s former Religious and Community Affairs Commissioner. The presidential race was the closest of the three contested positions, with Douek receiving 46 per cent of the vote and Hernandez-Lum Tong receiving 44 per cent. The two-percentage-point difference means Douek won by a margin of six votes. There were 40 spoiled ballots that accounted for 10 per cent of the presidential vote.

Kate Strazds won the election for Vice-President with 56 per cent of the vote and Peter Tao placed second with 35 per cent. The difference between the two candidates was 87 votes. Thirty-five votes, totalling nine per cent of the ballots cast, were spoiled.

Alison Feise won the election for VP Academic Affairs, securing 54 per cent of the vote. Rida Hasan placed second with 30 per cent. The difference between the two candidates was 101 votes. The vote for VP Academic Affairs had the highest amount of spoiled ballots among the contested races at 67, which accounted for 16 per cent of the vote.

Three candidates ran uncontested for their positions. Hiromitsu Higashi will serve as VP Communications, having garnered 82 per cent of the vote; John Russell will serve as VP Community Life after receiving 81 per cent of the vote; and Maher Sinno will take on the VP Arts position with 80 per cent of the vote.

Samantha Douek

The Varsity interviewed Douek on the results of the elections and plans for the future.

“I’m really thankful to everyone that supported me,” Douek said. “I really look forward to working with everyone and sharing my ideas… I just really want to make sure that everyone has a really great year.”

With regard to her marginal victory, Douek explained that, even before she began her campaign, she knew that the race against Hernandez-Lum Tong would be very close. “[Hernandez-Lum Tong] is… very involved in St. Mike’s and he’s a really great candidate,” she said. “I really respect his ideas and what he stands for, even though I hold different ideas.”

Still, Douek said that she was “able to earn the trust of the students and, even though it was a slight majority, it was a majority.”

When asked about the union’s three vacant positions, Douek stated that the elected members will “discuss which next steps to take to fill these positions.” She continued by saying, “I’m confident that between [the elected members] we can come up with a plan on how to move forward in a way that’s fair.”

Hernandez-Lum Tong said that he was “very disappointed” with the results of the election.

“It does hurt and probably will hurt for some time,” he said. “But putting my sadness aside, I do wish to extend a huge congratulations to Samantha and the rest of the students who won.”

SMCSU election results to be released October 17

Candidates focus on equity, transparency, communication

SMCSU election results to be released October 17

The St. Michael’s College Student Union (SMCSU) elections are over, with the polls having closed on October 15. Successful candidates will be the first members of the new ‘re-imagined SMSCU,’ whose guidelines were founded based on the conclusions of a special advisory committee over the past few months.

Nominations for Vice-Presidents of Communications, Community Life, and Arts included only one candidate each, while VP Finance, VP Athletics, and VP Religious and Community Affairs had no candidates despite an extended nomination period.

According to Erin McTague, the Chief Returning Officer of the elections, “It will be the decision of the elected union members to decide the process for filling the vacant positions,” and uncontested candidates will take on their roles after the Election Appeals Board has ratified the election results.

“The St. Michael’s community has worked together to create a fair and effective electoral process for a new student government,” said Stefan Slovak, SMC’s Director of Communications, Events, and Outreach in an email to The Varsity. “All those involved approached it with good will. We are confident that, with students working collaboratively with the University, a new era in student government is about to begin.”

Presidential candidates

Samantha Douek and Jeremy Hernandez-Lum Tong are both running for SMCSU President.

Douek said that she was motivated to run for president because she saw students around her lose “interest in [SMCSU] and community life.”

“If everyone is thinking the same things, and I have these ideas [for SMCSU]… then I might as well take the first step,” said Douek.

“I think the main thing I would love to work on is to embrace St. Mike’s traditions,” Douek stated. She believes that the Catholic values of SMC are “part of the identity that separates us from other colleges.”

Douek also added, “I think [it] would be nice to have connections between current students and [alumni] from an experience standpoint, because they have gone on and done a lot of interesting things.” She continued by noting that speaking with alumni would be helpful to students still figuring out their future, both at the university and beyond.

Hernandez-Lum Tong has previously been involved with SMCSU as the Religious & Community Affairs Commissioner. On Facebook, he presented a platform that detailed his plans for numerous areas of campus life. Notably, he discussed the issues of financial transparency, community life, and equity.

If elected, Hernandez-Lum Tong plans to periodically post the SMCSU budgets online “in order that a greater transparency and trust may be rightfully regained.” Moreover, he plans to continue with no-cash transactions to better manage the accounts and ensure accountability.

Hernandez-Lum Tong has supposedly “begun negotiation to reintroduce pub nights.” He claims that it’s an “impossibility” for club nights to come back, but “pub nights are more manageable.

Hernandez-Lum Tong acknowledged a “growing distrust among students” concerning their status at SMC. “I can guarantee that we will work to ensure that every student has an equal access to any resource, any event, any opportunity, [and] any SMC privilege offered by SMCSU,” he wrote in the Facebook post.

He continued to say,  “While there may not be a specific portfolio on SMCSU for matters of equity, I have always said that the only way equity can become a thing is if each member is willing to become a person who sees no distinction among others.”

All-candidates forum

On October 10, an all-candidates forum was held. Candidates discussed questions regarding communication with the administration, the recent SMCSU controversies, and questions about equity from the audience.

Peter Tao, a vice-presidential candidate, and Hiromitsu Higashi, the VP Communications candidate, both stated that they would set aside time for some form of face-to-face communication with students. Tao said he would hold office hours.

Rida Hasan, a VP Academic Affairs candidate, stated that as a second-year student, she “has a fresh outlook on everything.” She claimed that her open personality will allow her “to gain a lot of students’ trust.”

Vice-presidential candidate Kate Strazds emphasized that “social justice, equity, and inclusivity are all things that very dear to [her] heart.” She stated that a student union and its leaders should promote equity. “I believe that mandatory equity training for leaders should be implemented,” said Strazds.

Audience Q&A

During the audience Q&A period, SMC and SMCSU alumna Julia Ursini asked about dealing with the multi-faith diversity at SMC. She directed her question to the presidential candidates, asking them how they planned to create “a more inclusive SMC that accommodates this [multi-faith] diversity.”

Ursini cited an incident in 2016 where students expressed desire for a multi-faith space, to which SMC President David Mulroney had replied that if they wanted a safe space, they could go to the other side of campus. Ursini clarified that the statement was not a direct quotation. Slovak later said Ursini’s comment on Mulroney was “inaccurate.”

Hernandez stated that creative problem-solving would be required to overcome any barriers to equity. He further added that having open resources and receiving feedback would be crucial to the process.

Douek noted that she was not Christian and was surprised that such a comment could be made by Mulroney. She emphasized her desire to create an inclusive environment where diversity is supported.

Athens is burning at St. Michael’s College

The administration’s involvement in SMCSU’s ‘re-imagining’ raises serious concerns about student democracy

Athens is burning at St. Michael’s College

Students at St. Michael’s College (SMC) have been through their fair share of political turmoil in the past few years. A recently concluded financial investigation into the operations of the St. Michael’s College Student Union (SMCSU) revealed evidence of kickbacks, poor record-keeping, and unidentified expenditures and cash deposits. In December 2016, Snapchat videos depicting then-current and former members of SMCSU joking about Islam were leaked onto social media. Disagreements over the appropriate role of Catholicism at SMC have created hostility and mistrust between students, staff, and SMC President David Mulroney.

In light of everything that has happened, the elections for this year’s SMCSU representatives are currently taking place under the watchful eye of the SMC administration. We acknowledge that changes to SMCSU’s operations are necessary in light of past events, but the administration is treading a path to ‘reform’ that is deeply undemocratic — and its constituents will ultimately suffer the consequences.

There is considerable evidence to suggest that the SMC administration is slowly but surely assuming control of student government at the college. After SMCSU prorogued its activities late last year, the administration appointed a ‘re-imagining committee’  of six students to establish guidelines for SMCSU’s new directions. According to committee member Haseeb Hassaan, many of the suggestions made by these students, including the proposition to add a Vice-President Equity to the SMCSU executive, were not taken into account by the administration.

In exchange, the new Student Society Leadership Policy drafted by the committee now requires leaders to “accept their ethical obligation to act in accordance to USMC’s mission as a Catholic university.” All SMCSU expenses that exceed $500 will have to be co-signed by the SMC Administrative Advisor, who will also attend all scheduled meetings as an ex-officio member once the student union begins its term.

The administration’s attempts to ‘reform’ the college have been underway for some time. Mulroney has made his disapproval of SMCSU and SMC student culture clear throughout his tenure, and he has repeatedly expressed a desire to reconnect the college with its Catholic roots. After Mulroney condemned the financial mismanagement of SMCSU’s frequent club nights last fall, SMCSU opted for a trip to a pumpkin patch while other student societies hosted successful Halloween parties.

One of the most important functions of democratic student government is to meet students’ needs in ways that a university administration cannot. This sentiment is codified in the “Aims and Purposes” section of the most up-to-date and publicly available version of SMCSU’s constitution, which states “the Union shall effectively represent the interests of its members” at the college and within the U of T community. Hired by the university, and often insulated from the more minute realities of student life, university administrations are not always in the best position to gauge what students want, or they may be more concerned with other priorities. In step student representatives as liaisons and lobbyists.

In order for relationships between student governments and administrations to be truly successful, both parties must maintain independence and mutual respect. Student representatives cannot be dissolved into figureheads.

Of course, student societies should be subject to checks and balances to avoid abuses of power. Provisions within student society constitutions exist for this very purpose. Additionally, external mechanisms such as the Policy on Open, Accessible and Democratic Autonomous Student Organizations, approved by Governing Council in June 2016, demonstrate that accountability mechanisms can be implemented while making efforts to respect the autonomy of student organizations. SMCSU and all other student societies should undoubtedly remain accountable to their constituents, but maneuvering on the part of the administration is not the way to achieve this goal.

In an editorial last year, we expressed concern that Mulroney’s attitude toward students at the college was infantilizing, and we continue to stand by that position. The actions of a few grossly reckless individuals are not representative of the vast majority of students and student leaders at SMC, who are capable of making responsible decisions — suggesting that the administration needs to babysit all SMC students is insulting.

In July, an open letter from SMC faculty and staff condemned Mulroney for criticizing SMC at the SIGNIS World Conference. Signatories expressed that Mulroney’s remarks about SMC students — which included concerns about objectification of women, excessive drinking, and a dearth of Catholic values — were disappointing and did not reflect the behaviour of all students at the college.

As conflicts persist and changes unfold, it is crucial that SMC students retain their right to freely select their own leaders. It is a mistake to assume that a heavier hand on the part of the administration will necessarily improve life at the college. Though issues of financial responsibility may be more effectively policed, if students are not respected, other problems may arise in their place. Not the least of these is the lingering resentment that undoubtedly comes from being treated like toddlers.

Also concerning is the quest to expand Catholic influence at SMC, which could have a marginalizing impact on students of other faiths. Keep in mind that many, if not most, SMC students are not Catholic, yet Hassaan was the only Muslim and non-Catholic member of the re-imagining committee. In a prior interview with The Varsity, Hassaan expressed concern that the administration was using him as a “showpiece,” and that he was selected for the committee due to the Snapchat incident that targeted his religion.

The issues that plagued the ‘old’ SMCSU were in serious need of redress, and it is understandable that the administration seeks to avoid future disasters. That does not, however, make it appropriate for university officials to set up shop in student government offices. And to non-SMC students who question the relevancy of these events to their own colleges and faculties, think of the precedent being set. Many student societies have had long and thorny relationships with administrations, which at times have led to struggles for independence. If it can happen to SMCSU, it can happen to you.

We’ll be following the SMCSU elections closely to see how the union will navigate its role within these newfound constraints. In the name of democracy and student autonomy, we suggest you do the same.

Editor’s Note: A previous version of this article incorrectly stated that the administration’s Director of Student Life planned SMC’s orientation and that the orientation lip-sync contest was supervised to ensure the songs were appropriate. The article has been updated to reflect that neither of these instances occurred. 

SMCSU elections underway

Nominations for re-imagined SMCSU begin September 25

SMCSU elections underway

Following a year of reformation, September 25 marks a new beginning for student government at St. Michael’s College (SMC). Nominations are open for nine positions on the council as the college aims to implement the re-imagined student union’s new structure and apply its new leadership policy to candidates.

Following a confirmation of the eligibility of nominees on October 4 and an all-candidates forum on October 10, official voting will begin on October 11.

A group of students selected by SMC’s administration formed a ‘re-imagining committee’ in April to lay the framework for a new council; those who sat on the committee are barred from running in this election. SMC President David Mulroney had requested to delay elections until the fall to have time to draft a leadership policy to ensure that behaviour exhibited in the past by student officials would no longer arise.

The union was the subject of controversy last year: a video implicating then-current and former members of the union was criticized as Islamophobic, and there were allegations of financial misconduct on behalf of union members.

The Student Society Leadership Policy, which circulated alongside an email announcing the call for nominations, defines rules and expectations for student leaders at the college. It applies not just to the student union but to any student society or student group at St Michael’s, including the St. Michael’s Residence Council and The Mike newspaper.

Notably, the policy says that leaders’ eligibility will be decided by academic standing and the ability to “engage in responsible and respectful conduct that reflects positively on USMC students, USMC, and the broader University of Toronto community.” The policy stresses the importance of financial responsibility as well as the strict prohibition of hazing as any form of initiation, a part of the controversy of last year.

The policy also stipulates that “leaders accept their ethical obligation to act in accordance to USMC’s mission as a Catholic university that is dedicated to the academic and spiritual life of its students.”

Erin McTague, former President of the St. Mikes Residence Council and member of the committee that re-structured the union, will take on the role of Chief Returning Officer.

Election results will be posted on October 17.

It will take work to cleanse SMCSU of its unsavoury reputation

Re: “A new SMCSU?”

It will take work to cleanse SMCSU of its unsavoury reputation

It appears as though the St. Michael’s College Students’ Union (SMCSU) is ready to come back, but I’m skeptical that the supposedly new and improved organization will be able to regain any trust.

SMCSU was dissolved in light of the several controversies that plagued it last year, including Snapchat videos of then current and former members employing Islamophobic rhetoric and a failed financial audit. These revelations led many St. Michael’s College (SMC) students, including myself, to lose faith in the union that supposedly represents their collective interests.

In a blog post detailing his vision of a “re-imagined” SMCSU, SMC President David Mulroney stated that SMCSU “not only had a money problem, but a people problem” prior to his arrival. Rumours of SMC’s party culture have been around for some time; Mulroney characterized SMCSU’s operations as closer to those of a fraternity than a respected student government.

I would have to agree. During my time as a student at SMC, my only interaction with the student government has been the union fees I pay every semester. However, I haven’t seen this money go toward anything I would consider useful. Unlike other colleges, who seem to make it a priority to create a close-knit community of students on campus, I haven’t seen a significant attempt by SMCSU to bring their students closer together through organized events. Besides an annual toga party, I personally wouldn’t be able to tell you what those union fees have gone towards these past three years. My orientation in first year, for instance, was run by unenthusiastic leaders and was highly unorganized.

If SMCSU still hopes to be rid of the reputation it has created for itself, the road ahead is tough. The steps toward reform put forward by Mulroney seem promising, but without proper supervision, I’m afraid SMCSU will find it far too easy to fall back into old habits. I’d rather not see my money be used to fund expensive dinners and trips to Blue Mountain this year.

Yasaman Mohaddes is a third-year student at St. Michael’s College studying Political Science and Sociology.

A new SMCSU?

Formation of new student government at St. Michael’s closely supervised by Mulroney

A new SMCSU?

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. 

SMC faculty, staff pen open letter disavowing President David Mulroney

Open letter comes in response to Mulroney's speech at SIGNIS

SMC faculty, staff pen open letter disavowing President David Mulroney

Faculty members and staff of St. Michael’s College (SMC) have published an open letter accusing SMC President David Mulroney of dishonouring the college and its alumni. The letter, released on July 31, was signed by 22 current and former professors, associate professors, and librarians.

The letter is a response to a speech that Mulroney gave at the opening ceremony of the SIGNIS World Conference at the Université Laval, hosted by Christian media organization Salt + Light Media.

In the speech, Mulroney lamented that SMC has lost a sense of community. He stated that the undergraduate students, the Faculty of Theology, the library, and St. Basil’s Catholic Parish were all operating in isolation from each other. “We very definitely didn’t know who we are,” Mulroney said.

He played a section of a St. Michael’s College Student Union (SMCSU) video called “Cowboys and Schoolgirls” to the conference attendees, saying that the the video was exemplary of the trajectory that St. Michael’s student culture had come to follow: “people drinking excessively” and “women being objectified.”

“These were the great communicators of our narrative,” Mulroney added. “We’d given up communicating the message.” He reiterated that the student union was improper in its use of social media, referring to the SMCSU scandal that broke last December regarding a series of leaked Snapchat videos.

The open letter argues that Mulroney’s criticisms of the culture at SMCSU do not reflect the behaviour of all its constituents. “We believe this is a distorted picture, and a disservice to the nearly 5,000 undergraduate students in the Arts & Science Division and over 200 graduate students in the Faculty of Theology,” the letter reads.

Mulroney also said that U of T has become a “much more aggressively secular institution” since his time as a student, citing what he saw as the secularization of Trinity College and Victoria College, U of T’s two other federated colleges. He said that he doesn’t want to see SMC follow the same path. He noted that SMC stopped recruiting from Catholic-related institutions and, as a result, has attracted more non-Catholic students, causing SMC to be “involved in this continuous process of dialling down the salient points of our [Catholic] identity.”

He also criticized SMC for not providing a “Catholic voice” to speak on the spread of euthanasia around Canada, something he regards as a significant failure.” The writers of the open letter disagree, stating that “as the euthanasia debate heated up in this country in 2013, students in our Christianity and Culture programme hosted an open forum—an event which was covered favourably in the Catholic press.”

The letter concludes: “It was very disappointing and embarrassing to members of this community who have come to appreciate the gifts of our students and the legacy of the University of St. Michael’s College as a leader in post-secondary education… Your remarks, in our judgement, have dishonoured this legacy and shaken our confidence in you as President.”

Mark McGowan, the Principal at SMC from 2002–2011 and a signatory of the letter, told The Varsity that “since [Mulroney] made the comments and showed a clip from an off campus ‘party’ video to an international conference, whose proceedings were being filmed and disseminated by Salt  & Light Media, we thought it necessary that our defense of the vast majority of hardworking, conscientious, and gifted SMC students be made in a public manner.” McGowan explained that the letter “signaled our public support for our students and alumni.”

This turn of events comes just one month after it was announced that Mulroney would be stepping down as President and that a presidential search committee had been established to find his replacement. Mulroney assumed the role in June 2015 following a lengthy career in the Canadian Foreign Service.

Mulroney has been outspokenly critical about SMC in the past: he has criticized SMCSU, The Mike, other SMC student groups, and called for a total reform of SMC in September 2016.

The Varsity has reached out to SMC for comment.

This article has been updated to include comment from former SMC Principal Mark McGowan.

How to move forward from the SMCSU financial investigation

The student government’s activities are of great concern to students, and students should have a say in how its conflicts are resolved

How to move forward from the SMCSU financial investigation

The recent financial investigation conducted on the St. Michael’s College Student Union (SMCSU) has uncovered fundamental structural issues with the organization. Most importantly, the portion of the report that was made public indicated that SMCSU was plagued by corruption and a “culture of entitlement,” and a broken fiscal accountability system.

The accountability concerns revealed by the report are serious, and demand immediate attention. As a student government, SMCSU is tasked with representing and being responsible for its students, and it has failed to do so on both fronts. However, the council should be held directly accountable to St. Michael’s College students by allowing them to play a direct role in the remediation process, alongside the administration. It is unclear whether or not this is going to be the case.

One concern that the report brings to light is the power dynamics between SMCSU and the student body at large. Being a student representative is as much a privilege as it is an office, and it appears that some members of SMCSU do not respect that.

Speaking to what SMC President David Mulroney labeled as a “culture of entitlement” that appears to be present within SMCSU, the report notes significant expenditures on alcohol, food, and outings. For example, just over $300 was spent on dinner for two individuals. Additionally, a total of $50,677.90 was spent over the span of six years for “professional development,” which included annual retreats to Tyrolean Village Resort in Blue Mountain for council members.

In this context, the report quotes one student who expresses that such behaviour is part of the culture within the council, particularly among executive members. This sense of entitlement has long been propagated by a kind of “passing down the torch” system, where the most important thing was not to break with tradition.

In his statement on the topic, Mulroney said that the SMCSU operated on “three levels.” Although the vast majority of students involved were genuinely committed to student interests, they were kept “at arm’s length from information and decision making.” It was a top tier of students who held “real control of money, information and decision-making.” This group, an “entitled elite,” had “turned their backs on the students and the institution that they should have served, and treated SMCSU as a private Club,” Mulroney wrote.

What this ultimately reveals is distance and isolationism, not only between SMCSU and the body of students it should represent, but within the organization itself — making it difficult to hold those members with the most power accountable.

A second concern is the lack of institutional mechanisms for resolution when such issues arise. As explained by the report, a broken fiscal management and accountability system within SMCSU has allowed entitlement and irresponsibility to persist unhindered. The report noted several cases in which poor cash management led to missing and unaccounted for funds. Worse, there was no proper bookkeeping process, allowing for frequent unidentified deposits and expenditures, as well as the movement of funds without receipts.

Perhaps if institutional mechanisms existed to contain this behaviour, egregious violations of student trust, like third-party kickback payments, would not have taken place. In one particular instance, budgeted figures suggest deliberate fictitious overbilling to accommodate what was illicitly received. In an op-ed for The Varsity, former SMCSU Vice-President Jessica Afonso explicitly admitted to and condemned the prevalence of these practices within the organization.

For students across campus, and particularly St. Michael’s College students, all of this should be viewed with concern. As the primary representative of student interests at the College, it is SMCSU’s role to operate on behalf of these interests in a principled and professional fashion. As the SMCSU Constitution states, the organization “shall effectively represent the interests of its members” and accordingly “initiate measures and support organizations whose objective is to improve the quality of education and student life.” Clearly, the practices that the organization has been involved in over the past few years do not meet this standard.

It is also important to consider how this affects our reputation as students. The organization, as much as it represents our interests, also represents the student body at large. SMCSU representatives are elected through a democratic process, and it is unfortunate that their actions now reflect on their constituents and on the ability of students in general to handle significant responsibilities.

With this in mind, it is important that students have a hand in the reforms that are to take place. Keeping in mind SMCSU’s purpose as a democratic agent on behalf of the students of St. Michael’s College, as well as the clear infringements on students’ interests through their activities in the past, students should be the ones to decide its ultimate direction.

Yet, at this point, the organization’s future remains uncertain. In response to the report and a subsequent Snapchat scandal, the SMCSU resolved to prorogue its activities. In February, St. Michael’s College announced that it had formed a committee to organize new elections. Although reform and restructuring is clearly necessary, the relationship between students and this committee in undertaking this reform is unknown. For instance, although SMC has expressed its support for democratically-elected student government, it will now be keeping a close eye on the organization, having appointed an administrative adviser to oversee SMCSU.

For the sake of efficiency, the committee can certainly oversee the implementation of major reforms. However, the most democratic and transparent option would be to allow students to have a final say on what is implemented via referendum, and specific policies can be proposed and discussed in the upcoming election, whenever it might be. In this way, the changes that are necessary to avoid further corruption can be implemented, and the integrity of the student government can hopefully be salvaged.

Sam Routley is a second-year student at St. Michael’s College studying Political Science and Philosophy.