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How does it all work? A guide to the MSU

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If we want to be technical about it, the MSU was formed in 1890. 

In its early days, it was called the McMaster Student Body, an overarching name that belied how unequipped the organization had been in serving its entire student population. Over the years, it developed and mutated as student concerns began to diversify. Female McMaster students formed the Women’s Student Body in 1911, and in 1925, the separate needs of on- and off-campus students required that the student government be split into two. 

By 1946, however, all student organizations have merged into one: a singular student government called the McMaster Student Union. In 1971, it would be included as a non-profit in the Ontario Corporations Act. The name would remain in use to the present day. 

We still abide by the MSU constitution that came into effect in April 1, 1979—it dictates the precedents and requirements behind the organization’s purpose, membership, structure and method of governance. The MSU continues to operate a large section of student life on campus; among others, TwelvEighty, The Union Market, Underground, The Silhouette and CFMU-FM all fall under its jurisdiction. If you are a full-time undergraduate student, you yourself are a member of the MSU. You pay an average of $400 in tuition ancillary fees for the MSU alone, without counting the other expenses that had to have been approved by an MSU referendum.

So here’s a quick guide to the things that might be helpful to know:

BOARD OF DIRECTORS

The upper leadership in the MSU is comprised of four positions: the president, elected by the students via electronic voting in February, and three vice-presidents, one each for administration, education and finance, chosen by the Student Representative Assembly (SRA) in April. Their scope extends to all facets of student culture—proposed reforms in the past have involved on-campus issues, transportation and the surrounding area around the university, as well as concerns about post-graduation life. The 47 Eastbound and 15A Aldershot Go buses were granted two additional night trips during former president Ikram Farah’s tenure, while The Grind was added to TwelvEighty as per the plans of former vice-president of finance Tuba D’Souza. Former president Chukky Ibe had created a transition program for new graduates, meant to help with solidifying career choices, and also operated with an access strategy for potential students to whom university is less accessible. 

 

For the 2019-2020 term, the president is Josh Marando, and the vice-presidents, presented in order of the units listed above, are Sarah Figueiredo, Shemar Hackett and Alexandrea Johnston. Key areas that they intend to target this year, in addition to many others, include: mental health and sexual violence support, accessibility in education, student safety concerns, advocacy, and an increase in transparency with regards to MSU affairs.

Josh Marando, president (president@msu.mcmaster.ca)

Sarah Figueiredo, vice-president administration (vpadmin@msu.mcmaster.ca)

Shemar Hackett, vice-president education (vped@msu.mcmaster.ca)

Alexandrea Johnston, vice-president finance (vpfinance@msu.mcmaster.ca)

THE STUDENT REPRESENTATIVE ASSEMBLY (SRA) 

Comprised of thirty-one student representatives elected from each faculty, as well as the president and vice-presidents, the SRA functions as the MSU’s legislative body. It operates as a thirty-five member parliament, standing as the highest source of juridical authority at McMaster. It approves and revises all policy and legislation, and, barring the president, elects most MSU officers. 

The SRA also has the power to ratify clubs—and to de-ratify them, as with the recent case of the Dominion Society. White supremacy concerns precipitated backlash from students, leading to the intervention of President Josh Marando and an SRA emergency meeting. 

Arts & Science (sraartsci@msu.mcmaster.ca)

Business (sracom@msu.mcmaster.ca)

Engineering (sraeng@msu.mcmaster.ca)

Health Science (srahealth@msu.mcmaster.ca)

Humanities (srahuman@msu.mcmaster.ca)

Kinesiology (srakin@msu.mcmaster.ca)

Nursing (sranursing@msu.mcmaster.ca)

Science (srasci@msu.mcmaster.ca)

Social Sciences (srassci@msu.mcmaster.ca)

By-elections for open SRA positions for the school year will be held in October. For further information, you may contact the MSU chief returning officer at election@msu.mcmaster.ca

EXECUTIVE BOARD (EB)

Five SRA members at large—five officers chosen to represent the SRA’s entire membership—join the president and vice-presidents in the Executive Board (EB). The SRA then elects a general manager, a marketing & communications director, an administrative services coordinator, and an associate vice-president: services into the board, all of whom are non-voting. The board remains answerable to the SRA, and can assume its powers and responsibilities during the summer or in times of emergency. As a whole, the board, chaired by the president, oversees the organizational and bureaucratic responsibilities of the MSU.

GENERAL ASSEMBLY 

Each academic year, the MSU is bound by its constitution to conduct a General Assembly (GA). All full-time undergraduate students are eligible to attend, and are given the opportunity to exert influence on the MSU’s actions by submitting a motion for discussion. Once a motion has been seconded, the issue is brought into open debate in a public meeting, wherein students are welcome to speak for or against it. Motions passed during the assembly are binding so long as quorum is met; otherwise, passed motions are debated within the SRA.

Motions can range from a request for the Graduate Student Association and McMaster Association of Part-Time Studies to devise club systems that do not circumscribe membership, to the Boycott-Divestment-Sanctions (BDS) Campaign of 2015, which called for the boycott of any corporation profiting from occupation of Palestinian territory.

The 2015 GA saw more than seven hundred attendees voting on the BDS motion, but the GA has since been underutilized. In 2016, the attendance dropped to 27, followed by 16 in 2017 and a paltry rise to 47 in 2018. Last March, the GA reached a new low with less than ten students in attendance. 

The exact date for the 2020 GA is yet to be announced.

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Author: Trisha Gregorio

Trisha is in their last year of Classics and Linguistics. A serial insomniac, they drink too much espresso and spend most of their downtime Wikipedia-hopping.