It took 22 hours for the Student Representative Assembly to elect this year’s MSU vice-presidents– a meeting that might not happen next year if some students have their way.

Though there is almost unanimous consensus that the VP electoral system is flawed, exactly how the system should be reformed is a divisive topic that led to the creation of a VP Electoral Reform Ad Hoc committee.

“The way VPs are elected at the moment needs to change,” said Ehima Osazuwa, MSU President. But whether that change should be determined by a small committee of student leaders or go directly to referendum will be decided by the ad hoc committee.

A surprise motion was brought forward by SRA Social Science Representative Eric Gillis at the General Assembly on March 23, 2015 to hold a referendum for students to decide whether or not they want to elect the Vice Presidents, or want the SRA to continue to elect them. Although this motion passed, there were not enough people for quorum to be reached, meaning the SRA has the discretion to vote on it.

26 days after General Assembly, and a day before the vote on whether or not to have a referendum was held, the Speaker of the SRA ruled this motion out of order in a last minute email sent to SRA members. A Facebook event aiming to engage students at this meeting hosted public outcry and claims of a deliberate attempt to prevent the vote from happening.

Instead, the SRA passed a motion to create an ad hoc VP reform committee which will recommend what the SRA will vote on in Fall 2015. “Talking to a lot of SRA members they were either not comfortable performing the vote or they did not want the vote to happen at all.” said Shaarujaa Nadarajah, SRA member and member of the committee. She explained that SRA members were uncomfortable with voting on a referendum without the nuances of how the referendum would be framed.

The official document states “the recommendations shall include a formal proposal for a referendum, with an official breakdown of ballot options.”

The first meeting will be on June 7 at 2 p.m. in the MSU Boardroom and anyone interested is welcome to attend, although the Speaker and Chair of the committee, Inna Berditchevskaia, asks interested students to arrive five minutes early.

Osazuwa describes the purpose of the committee to elaborate on what options a potential referendum should include. “[The purpose is] to give students choices, because the current motion put forward didn’t have any choices,” said Osazuwa.

"I joined [the committee] because I was frustrated throughout this entire movement that people were making these sweeping generalizations about what students wanted" - Connor McGee, MSU committee member

Although, Osazuwa admitted that whether or not this referendum will happen is still unclear.

“The job of the committee is to decide whether it should go to referendum or not,” said Osazuwa.

“If students want it to go to referendum then it should go to referendum.” When asked if he anticipates students will want a referendum, he said yes.

However, critics of the committee wonder whether it is representative of the student body or simply of the “MSU bubble”.

“The committee is open to every single person so anyone can come” said Osazuwa. He says it’s important to represent the 22,000+ members of McMaster.

Others question whether the students at GA and those involved in the public outcry were representative of the student body. “I joined [the committee] because I was frustrated throughout this entire movement that people were making these sweeping generalizations about what students wanted,” said Connor McGee, MSU member on the committee.

The committee was selected during exam time and the MSU members on the committee were all acclaimed. It has been brought up that maybe because it fell during the exam period, it was difficult for students to come out to SRA meetings.

“People could have made themselves available and been nominated beforehand or have their speech read,” said McGee.

“I wouldn’t necessarily say this is the MSU bubble representing itself,” said McGee. He also says there might be a self-selection bias in who joins the committee. “In a lot of cases it makes sense that an SRA member, or former SRA member or someone like that, would have an interest and more thorough understanding of what the position entails.”

A separate criticism is that this committee is redundant with work that has been done before.

“The committee itself, I understand why it was struck, but honestly, the democratic reform committee has existed in 2012 and 2013 from my understanding and did similar research to this committee, so I don’t think it will come up with anything new” said Sara Jama, SRA member on the committee.

The committee and its research will certainly contribute to the discussion on electoral reform and how students perceive the MSU. “Beyond VPs this is also a great opportunity to talk to students about the MSU,” said McGee.

However, it remains to be seen whether this committee will serve to perpetuate the status quo or create meaningful change.

Given the divisive nature of the topic, it is also unclear whether it will be productive.

“If someone’s personal bias does start to get in the way, I think that would obviously jeopardize the findings and entire point and integrity of having this ad-hoc committee. So in that case, I think it’s safe to say some kind of action would be taken,” said McGee. “There’s no point in having a committee if you’re purposely going to skew the results.”

“I see it as a stalling mechanism, but hopefully good discussion will come out of the committee itself,” said Jama.

Screen Shot 2015-06-08 at 3.03.27 PM

On May 16, 2015, Spencer Nestico-Semianiw, the MSU’s Vice-President (Education), was elected President of the Ontario Undergraduate Student Alliance at the organization’s Transition Conference. The Ontario Undergraduate Student Alliance (OUSA) represents students from seven universities in Ontario, including all full-time undergraduate students at McMaster.

Nestico-Semianiw previously served as OUSA’s research intern in the summer of 2014, and the MSU’s External Affairs commissioner before being elected as VP (Education) in April.

His duties as OUSA President will involve acting as the chief spokesperson of the organization, chairing the steering committee meetings composed of VP (Education) equivalents from all member schools, and representing the organization to media, the government, and other stakeholders.    

Nestico-Semianiw says that increased internal advocacy support within the MSU will help balance the increased commitment to external advocacy as OUSA President.

“With some of the past VP (Education) there’s always that discussion of internally and externally-confused. This year we’re fortunate to have much more internal support with new research assistants that will be hired and an increase in [Advocacy Street Team] hours… I’ll be going to Toronto several times a month for meetings and working with [OUSA] home office. The time commitment is essentially more for travel and attending meetings.”

In his new role, he wants to continue the work of Jen Carter, his predecessor, by building consensus within OUSA’s member schools on issues pertinent to Ontario undergraduate students.

“It’s something that Jen did last year that gained a lot of positive reception. You’re the President, but the fact is that this is OUSA, and it’s not Western’s lobby group or Mac’s lobby group. The spirit that she took and I think I’ll be taking as well is making sure that all schools feel that they are satisfying what their students want.”

Tuition is one of the most topical advocacy points for undergraduate students across the province and at McMaster. Ehima Osazuwa, the MSU’s current President, was elected on a platform that included the creation of a task force that examines tuition advocacy options.

According to OUSA’s Tuition Brief, tuition in Ontario has increased by $2,658 in the past decade, whereas an increase consistent with inflation would have only amounted to $766. Ontario has the highest tuition fees in Canada, and they continue to rise at three percent every year for undergraduate students.    

Nestico-Semianiw believes that the goals of the MSU’s Tuition Task Force are in line with OUSA’s advocacy.

“In the tuition policy that OUSA releasted this year, the principles and recommendations are essentially for a tuition freeze for the 2016-2017 year. This is what Ehima will be advocating and what our stance will be this year as well.

“Tuition assistance is very topical, even the funding formula is another big thing the province is engaging with this year. My goal is to talk to other VPs (Education) and see what their goals are,” said Nestico-Semianiw.

Although discussions about a tuition freeze will also be carried out internally with the university, Nestico-Semianiw believes that the bigger goal is provincial funding.

“We could always have this discussion between student unions and the university, but I truly do believe that when it comes to the university… if we’re asking for a tuition freeze, the money is just not there. We need to ensure we’re not high-fiving and student services are being cut because there’s now this lack of revenue. The main goal is to be able to use OUSA as a vehicle to advocate for increased funding from the province for more affordable education,” he said

As for next steps, Nestico-Semianiw will start by reaching out to other schools.

“The approach very much has to depend on what our schools want to see because, as I said, I ran for president because I did believe that this is something that our students wanted and that this was the time for us to do that, but it’s not just the MSU’s OUSA.”

“I did get the sense at TransCon that [tuition] is a priority for many of our schools, and figuring out how we want to advocate to the province.”

Subscribe to our Mailing List

© 2022 The Silhouette. All Rights Reserved. McMaster University's Student Newspaper.