It’s that time of the year where a large majority of students are strategically avoiding the atrium of the McMaster University Student Centre. The campaigning period for the next McMaster Students Union president is currently underway and will continue until the end of polling on Jan. 24.
Elections for MSU president are held annually, and are voted on by the MSU membership. While this sounds fair on paper, this translates into the consistent underrepresentation of co-op and internship students during elections. These students, who are not technically MSU members, are not allowed to support presidential candidates which includes voting or being a member of a presidential campaign team.
This is especially concerning considering co-op and internship students make up a large per cent of McMaster’s undergraduate population, with some programs like the bachelor of technology mandating co-op. If graduating students are afforded the right to vote and influence the MSU, despite not being present to actually experience the changes themselves, it makes little sense to deny returning students the same rights.
The argument in defense of excluding these students is that they do not pay the MSU fee. For the 2018-2019 academic year, this fee was $573.07, paid by each full-time undergraduate student at McMaster University in addition to their tuition and other fees. Note that $230 goes towards the MSU Health and Dental plan where students have the option to opt-out.
While it is true that co-op and internship students do not pay MSU fees or tuition, they still are required to pay co-op fees. For example, students in the faculty of science are required to pay a $3050 co-op fee over three years, which includes a yearly $150 administration fee. Similarly, students from the DeGroote School of Business must pay around $900 to participate in the commerce internship program.
A solution could be to allow these students the option to opt-in to the MSU fee and thus become MSU members with all the rights and privileges afforded with MSU membership, including the right to participate in MSU elections. But should students be forced to pay the full MSU fee in order to be represented?
Other student unions like University of Victoria’s Students’ Society collect partial fees from co-op students. Payment of this partial fee allows these students to only access services that are relevant towards them. This includes access to the health and dental plan, ombudsperson, university bursaries and democratic participation in students’ society elections.
If a system like this was introduced to the MSU, it would allow co-op and internship students the ability to benefit solely from services and activities that pertain to them, while not unnecessarily paying for services which are less relevant to students away on placements like participating in MSU clubs. This could then essentially be a reduced version of the $130.26 MSU operating fee that full-time undergraduate students pay as part of their MSU fee.
Alternatively, the MSU can make it so that returning MSU members are afforded electoral rights without having to pay an additional fee. Co-op and internship students spend the majority of their degree at the university. They have most definitely paid MSU fees in the years preceding their placements and will continue to pay fees upon their return. Why should they be charged additional monies during their short term away just to be represented?
Students on co-op or internships are still returning students that deserve to have an input on their union’s representation. Whatever change is made for future elections, it stands that the current unfair treatment of co-op and internship students by the MSU is a disservice to us all.
Justin Lee is a second-year political science student who is bringing a platform that aims to help the McMaster Students Union serve students while creating more opportunities for students to get involved with the MSU.
Last year, Lee served as the chair of the MSU First Year Council. This year, he is serving as a social science representative for the Student Representative Assembly and as a representative on the MSU’s university affairs committee.
Lee’s platform consists of 13 objectives aimed collectively at increasing communication between students, the MSU and the university and making students’ lives easier and safer.
A large section of Lee’s platform is focused on supporting clubs at McMaster. One way he plans to do this is by providing fundraising training services for all MSU clubs. He hopes that by decreasing funding and increasing training, most clubs will become fiscally independent.
Lee also aims to host another ClubsFest during the second semester to increase student involvement.
Lowering food prices is another major point in Lee’s platform. To achieve this platform objective, he says he will meet with Hospitality Services to discuss menu items. He also floats the idea of an after-hours takeout service, which he says will aid students living on campus.
Another platform point is the provision of free menstrual products for single use washrooms.
Lee’s other ideas to help students succeed include hosting events to promote mental health and using the funds to invest into MSU mental health services. He also plans to work with the Student Success Centre to create subsidized “life skills” programs, such as first aid training or tax-filing.
Lee’s platform includes an initiative to “increase proactive security efforts with regards to public events.”
Lee wants the MSU to engage students more effectively by bolstering its social media presence.
Regarding campus infrastructure and rules, Lee says he will enforce the maintenance of emergency poles and will start a discussion with the university administration over the smoking ban, which he says “should either be enforced or more lenient.”
Another platform point is Lee’s “Uber for Buses” project. Lee envisions a sort of digital “dynamic routing system” during late-night times where students on the bus can request a stop by putting it into the software, from which the drivers can plan the most efficient route.
Lee also wants to implement HSR driver accountability by creating a platform that allows students to report drivers and give feedback on their transit experience.
More information about Lee’s platform can be found by reaching out to Lee’s campaign at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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In his eighth year at McMaster University, Level IV materials engineering student Jeffrey Campana believes his communication skills and experience within and apart from the McMaster Students Union governing body give him the ability to propose a fairly ambitious set of platform points.
His most prominent MSU involvement has been with Union Market, where he has worked for the past four years and is now the manager. He is also an MSU Maroon and serves as the vice president (Promotions) for the McMaster Chess Club.
Campana’s platform is comprised of 15 platform points and three advocacy initiatives focusing on infrastructure, accessibility, student engagement and campus safety.
Campana’s aspires to expand MSU present Ikram Farah’s Tax Free Tuesdays pilot project, what he calls “the best platform point from the past seven MSU elections.”
Campana’s two other advocacy points involve improving Go service and adding incentives to encourage student participation in the newly-released MSU landlord rating system.
Perhaps the most ambitious platform point out of the 15 is Campana’s plan to build an ice rink on campus by January 2020.
Two of Campana’s infrastructure projects involve lighting and wifi. Campana wants to upgrade all lights on campus to white LED lighting. Campana’s “Actually Better Wi-Fi” initiative involves conducting a “Wi-Fi audit” across campus to provide wifi wherever it is currently missing.
Another initiative includes the proposal to distribute free menstrual products to students and every all-genders washroom on campus.
Campana’s “Mac Votes” point outlines his commitment to place a polling station on campus for future elections.
Campana has a few points to make the operations of the “MSU Bubble” more engaging and accessible. He plans to “Break the Bubble” by standardizing different roles and ensuring hiring practices are unbiased.
Regarding the overall vision of the MSU, Campana plans to release an additional annual document on top of the “State of the Union” to outline the long-term goals of the union. His “Easy Reading” point will make the student union website available to be translated into any language.
“Your Bank, No Fees” is the title of Campana’s plan to increase the number of ATMs representing different banks on campus.
Campana has also dedicated two platform points to improving the Welcome Week experience for reps and incoming first year students. He plans to continue subsidizing meals at TwelvEighty for reps and extend it from two days to one week.
More information about Campana’s platform can be found at www.jeffreymichael2019.com.
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In Dec. 2018, posters featuring the same font and design as McMaster University’s Brighter World campaign posters but instead reading “Whiter World” began popping up in various locations around campus.
According to the De Caire Off Campus Facebook page, the group behind the campaign is the Revolutionary Student Movement, an anti-capitalist student activist movement that claims to “support the peoples’ struggles against capitalism, imperialism, and colonialism in Canada and internationally.”
One poster reads “Farewell Patrick!” and accuses McMaster president Patrick Deane of promoting white supremacy and far-right groups, alleging that he was a “settler in apartheid South Africa.”
Another poster displays two photos of University of Toronto professor Jordan Peterson, calling him ‘anti-trans’ and ‘fascist’ and mentioning the treatment of protesters during his appearance in March 2017 and the ensuing free speech debate. It also highlights the vandalism of McMaster’s pride crosswalks.
The third poster details McMaster director of parking and security service Glenn De Caire’s history of support for carding, alleging that police presence around campus has increased dramatically.
The campaign initially began in Dec. 2015 in response to McMaster’s hiring of De Caire. In spite of the student backlash that the hire ignited and the McMaster Students’ Union Student Representative Assembly’s vote to endorse De Caire’s removal, the university stood by him, and De Caire has remained in his role since.
“The Whiter World posters outline white supremacist activity that the McMaster administration has actively facilitated on campus, as well what we see on the rise in the city,” the De Caire Off Campus group said in a statement to The Silhouette. “The campaign emerged out of the increasingly urgent need to push back against far-right and white supremacist organizing.”
When asked for an interview, Gord Arbeau, the university’s director of communications, responded by condemning the Whiter World posters.
“Our approach when there is graffiti or there are acts of vandalism is to remove the material when it is found. That’s what has happened in the handful of times these leaflets have been discovered,” said Arbeau.
The group behind the Whiter World campaign is particularly concerned about the alleged ineffectiveness of student consultation efforts by the university and the MSU and the university’s free speech guidelines, which they say have not seriously considered the concerns of marginalized communities.
In November, the SRA passed a motion opposing the Ontario government’s free speech policy mandate. MSU president Ikram Farah has been vocal in her opposition of McMaster’s free speech guidelines.
On Nov. 14, Farah, Deane, and McMaster University associate vice president (Equity and Inclusion) Arig al Shaibah hosted an open town hall to consult students and discuss the free speech mandate.
“[Consultation efforts have been] nothing more than manipulation and exploitation, and we refuse to cooperate,” the De Caire Off Campus group said.
The De Caire Off Campus campaign has also condemned the allegedly bolstered police presence in and around McMaster.
Every school in the Hamilton area employs at least one ‘school resource officer,’ a special police officer stationed at that location to ensure security.
“Police presence brings with it, for so many marginalized people, a constant threat of violence,” said the De Caire Off Campus group.
They also accuse Hamilton’s ACTION police teams of targeting racialized and working class residents and creating a hostile environment for marginalized students.
It is unclear whether the De Caire Off Campus group has any further plans to protest the university or consult with the student union or university administration.
This is the first time since 2013 that less than 40 per cent of students voted in the McMaster Students Union presidential election. The number dropped almost 12 per cent from last year, and represents almost 3,000 students.
There are about nine months until the Hamilton municipal election. If you cannot get students to vote for their own union’s president, how do you ever expect to will them into voting in a municipal election that has less direct influence on them?
Time and time again, student needs are passed over by the city and the complaints pile up. The addition of bylaw officers as a knee-jerk response to Homecoming, the fines students have paid because of these officers, the lack of consultation with students on issues affecting them, the continued struggles with the HSR or the attempted shift in ward boundaries that would have split the student vote and diminished the effect of the $1.5 million Area Rating Reserve Fund for students all add up.
Most of these have been within the last few months. Ask yourself what you really expect to find if you look back at the city’s decisions since 2014. Why would the city cater to a population that does not vote for them?
Efforts after this immense drop in voter turnout need to start immediately. Communication has been a constant problem for the entire year as little improvement has been made since the Sept. 28, 2017 editorial, which stated as the kicker, “While the focus is on big projects, students need more updates on more things”. These results prove it.
All of the debates, the campaigning and the promises of each candidate were meaningless to a population that is apathetic or unaware of what the union does. It is a lot to ask a student who believes that barely anything has improved to listen to promises for the future.
That editorial also mentions, “The fortunate part for this paper is that many of our news articles, no matter how big or small, are breaking stories,” which still remains completely absurd. Despite the constant criticism in nearly every single issue against them or against issues on campus that still have yet to be fixed, the Silhouette has likely printed more positive news about the union than they have provided themselves. It is ridiculous.
The union needs to act immediately and not wait for Ikram Farah, the president-elect, to step in and save everything. Any union that fails to engage the people who pay for it is a failure, and losing the dedication of about 3,000 of them to apathy in a single year is a crisis.
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After a long and controversial campaign, the Boycott Divestment and Sanctions campaign’s demands became an official part of the MSU’s purchasing policy following last year’s General Assembly. However, one full term following the vote, the MSU and BDS McMaster have yet to produce a final list of companies to divest from.
The BDS movement identifies itself as a non-violent campaign that seeks to divest from all companies involved in the Israeli occupation of Palestinian territories. The campaign was met with opposition from Israeli student groups, and garnered comments from the former Harper government condemning the movement and its policies as instances of hate crime. However, the BDS campaign at McMaster has been slightly revised, only boycotting companies involved in specific illegal settlements, and not all Israeli companies.
In mid-September, members of the BDS McMaster, a group of about 15 students along with about 200 volunteers, were tasked with forming a comprehensive purchasing list for the MSU. The current MSU vendors list is made up of almost 3,000 companies and individuals that the MSU both purchases and receives money from. Individual BDS members and volunteers researched about 200 different companies each, primarily using online search engines, and occasionally contacting companies to further inquire about their involvement in occupied territories. The estimated number of companies to be affected by the policy has not been finalized.
BDS McMaster group member Lina Kuffiyeh explained, “This list basically has everything and we have to spend so much time figuring out which companies we should boycott because the list is so huge.” Kuffiyeh expressed the desire for a smaller list from the university that excludes students that have given money to the MSU.
While there are no clear plans for future initiatives for the group, Kuffiyeh hopes that the enthusiasm for the campaign will continue after it has been fully implemented. “A lot of students take the BDS movement personally,” stated Kuffiyeh. “I know it’s personal to me because I still have family back home in Palestine who are directly targeted by the occupation so I hope it continues to resonate with students on campus. I also hope students realize that BDS isn’t just about Israeli occupation, it actually relates to a broader umbrella of ethical purchasing.”
The small group of BDS students are currently verifying the companies that are slated to be boycotted, while also juggling academic responsibilities. Members of the group are aiming to have the list completed by the end of the school term, or January at the latest.
Photo Credit: Alex Young