Photo C/O Catherine Goce
On Sept. 22, the Student Representative Assembly voted to de-ratify the McMaster Chinese Students and Scholars Association due to concerns that the club’s actions had endangered members of the community. An investigation by the Silhouette has found that there had been several instances of miscommunication in the months leading up to the de-ratification.
During the summer, the Student Representative Assembly were under the impression that MAC CSSA would be under probation during the 2019-2020 academic year. However, this was not the case. Miscommunication between members of the SRA and some MSU staff members led to MAC CSSA being ratified as an MSU club on July 21 without first being placed on probation. On Sept. 22, MAC CSSA was de-ratified due to reasons unrelated to this miscommunication.
Every summer, the Clubs Administrator provides the SRA with a list of groups to recommend for MSU club status, highlighting any groups that require additional monitoring. On June 18, Clubs Administrator Aditi Sharma released a memo that recommended 327 student groups for MSU club status. The memo drew attention to two McMaster clubs: MAC CSSA and LifeLine.
“Two returning clubs (CSSA & Lifeline) are marked with a double asterisk (**) which indicates certain issues that came up during the year and supplemental details for those issues,” Sharma states in the memo.
The supplemental details that Sharma was referring to, titled “Clubs Ratification Supplemental Info #2 – CSSA and Lifeline”, provides some background on the clubs. It highlights concerns that members of MAC CSSA had endangered an activist who spoke on campus about human rights issues for Uighur Muslims in China on Feb. 11. The document gives no indication that MAC CSSA was to be put on probation.
Putting a club on probation allows the MSU to monitor the group’s activities and evaluate the need for further disciplinary action. According to the MSU Clubs Operating Policy, if clubs are found guilty of certain offenses, they may be placed on a period of probation. During this period, the club is required to report all future events and meetings to the Clubs Administrator. If the club is found to violate the rules again, it is subject to disciplinary action.
During the June 23 SRA meeting, a motion was put forward to ratify new and returning MSU clubs as recommended by the Clubs Administrator for the 2019-2020 academic year. An amendment to this motion was put forward to ratify all clubs with the exception of MAC CSSA, McMaster Chinese News Network, McMaster Chinese Graduate Students Society and McMaster Chinese Professional Association. A motion to postpone this discussion to the July 21 SRA meeting was passed 19-1, citing the need for more information.
On July 21, the SRA voted 17-1 to ratify all new and returning MSU clubs as recommended by the Clubs Administrator for the 2019-2020 academic year. MAC CSSA was ratified without any probationary period, since the Clubs Administrator had not recommended that they be placed on probation.
Email correspondence in preparation for an SRA meeting almost two weeks later indicated that there was an assumption that MAC CSSA had been placed on probation. In reality, however, nowhere do the meeting minutes state that MAC CSSA had been placed on probation.
On Aug. 12, Administrative Services Coordinator Victoria Scott sent an email to an SRA member in which she mistakenly stated that MAC CSSA was on probation.
“. . .I can tell you now that the Chinese Students and Scholars Association’s ratification was contingent on providing outstanding information, plus they are on probation for six months,” said Scott in her email.
“One more clarification! They are on probation, but there wasn’t a time set,” Scott clarified through a second email that she sent the same day.
Both clarifications were incorrect.
“In my August 12 email to [an SRA member], I incorrectly referenced a memo from the Clubs Department that was circulated in June to the SRA,” said Scott, when asked by the Silhouette on Nov. 5 where she obtained the information on CSSA’s probation.
Neither MAC CSSA’s probation nor the length of time for a probationary period are mentioned in the Clubs Department’s June memo.
On Aug. 14, an SRA member, who asked to remain anonymous, sent an email to MSU President Josh Marando to clarify MAC CSSA’s privileges including their access to MSU resources and the club’s ability to attend ClubsFest.
“Towards the end of our meeting [on Aug. 13], I believe [one SRA member] had asked about the BoD [Board of Directors] about the current situation with [MAC] CSSA, to which they replied that as of now, the CSSA does not have access to MSU resources . . .” said the SRA member in the email.
“I know the end of the SRA meeting got quite confusing, I was confused as well so I apologize for that. [MAC] CSSA is currently under probation this year, which means they must keep clubs admin informed of all events they hold, are watched more closely, and will face serious consequences in the instance of another infraction,” replied Marando over email.
It is unclear whether both the SRA member and Marando are referring to an informal meeting, or whether records of this meeting are missing from the August 13 SRA meeting minutes, as this was an emergency meeting called to revoke the Dominion’s Society club status.
Almost three weeks later, on Sept. 3, the same SRA member sent a follow-up email regarding MAC CSSA’s supposed probation, which both Scott and Marando had confirmed earlier via email.
“I wanted to ask — why exactly was the CSSA put on probation? I’m not sure if I missed it, but I don’t think it was ever clear about the reason behind this [decision],” asked the SRA member. “In addition, I don’t believe that there is actually any explicit record of the CSSA being disciplined.”
“I believe the terms this year are that all events go through the Clubs Administrator as well as conditions surrounding ratification should they breach policy this year. That said, I don’t fully know,” replied Marando, offering to check and meet with the Clubs Department after ClubsFest.
After at least one month of miscommunication, on Sept. 13, Marando clarified that the Clubs Department had recommended LifeLine to be ratified contingent on a probationary period, but had not recommended this for MAC CSSA.
“I am still following up with the minutes of the meeting as they haven’t been released yet, so I would interpret it as LifeLine’s probation still stands, but the CSSA one should be put forward again […] Again, I’m still confirming to be 100%, but I would say it’s probably best to go ahead and put forward the CSSA probation motion again at the September 22 [SRA] meeting,” clarified Marando in his email on Sept. 13.
In an SRA Facebook group message following the Sept. 22 SRA meeting, Marando acknowledged the miscommunication surrounding MAC CSSA’s probation and apologized for the confusion.
“Regarding the confusion and mistakes made regarding the CSSA not being informed at the meeting and the initial probation. Overall, both are big oversites [sic], but please understand that they were not intentional by any means and we have put plans to ensure they do not happen again,” said Marando in the Facebook chat.
When asked about this miscommunication at the Nov. 3 SRA meeting, Marando stated that he believed everyone on the SRA was under the impression that the Club Department’s recommendation of probation applied to MAC CSSA, as well as LifeLine.
“It was really a procedural error,” said Marando.
This was the first time that he publicly acknowledged the issue of miscommunication pertaining to the CSSA’s supposed probation.
“Trying to rectify moving forward in terms of making sure that motions are more specific when it comes to ratifying clubs also, we are doing a full review of the clubs application process through our Internal Governance committee,” said Marando.
In the President’s Report, Marando states that club policy review is ongoing.
“Overall, I am hoping to have a bulk of the policy writing time in December, with conversations happening during November. We are looking at how funding works, improvements to [re-ratifications], how and who ratifies clubs, the Club Executive Council, and what qualifies a recognized club,” stated Marando in the report.
Time will tell the impact any changes made to club policies will have on future communication within the MSU.