Commentary | Hyde Park: Picketing is nice, but use your brain first

Today, it seems everyone has to have an opinion on everything. But that’s not a bad thing.

New media has resulted in a communicative democracy unimagineable even 20 years ago. But in terms of democracy and campus politics, the slightest action on the part of either student leaders or the administration is an object of immediate and often exaggerated scrutiny by the opposite party. I believe that this ready-to-condemn attitude, this lack of basic listening skills and empathy, is what needs to be placed underneath the proverbial microscope of our student body.

The recent Reclaim Your Campus campaign is an admirably choreographed effort to refocus the McGill authority’s concerns back toward the heart of the University: us, the students. The campaign is attractive and sensible, as it attacks recent actions on the part of the University administration to restrict the liberties of students and to succumb to corporate donors. Simultaneously, a union for undergraduate student employees is building support to petition for official labour status from the Canadian government.

But this raises an archetypal danger, that of confusing causal mechanisms with effects. It is certainly true that the notorious bureaucracy and apathy of the administration has frustrated and daunted McGill students for numerous generations, but one has to understand that this isn’t due to haphazard disregard for the benefit of students. Without students, obviously this University would have nothing – no appeal to donors, no impetus for innovative research, no need for faculty renewal or structural management.

The notion that the administration is purposefully trying to erode the success of the students is absurd, but it is true that in seeking improvement it has stumbled upon a less than desirable means to an end.

This includes but is not limited to an unacceptably oligarchic decision-making process that largely excludes student representatives. But there are logical reasons why the most important authorities behind university-approved resolutions are corporations. With an approximate 60 per cent of McGill students coming from within Quebec and the tuition freeze still in effect, McGill must cope by compensating for this lack of income. Whereas most American schools charge upwards of $10,000 annually for in-state students – a figure most Canadians routinely complain about – McGill has raised its ancillary fees and catered to large companies in efforts to maintain a vibrant and appealing atmosphere for prospective students and researchers, much of which (unfortunately) has a direct correlation with our level of financial resources.

In a perfect world, a universal right to education would be undisputed and tuition wouldn’t exist. But we must understand the realities the administration faces in governing an institution that educates a populace the size of a small city. We can’t demand for higher wages for Teaching Assistants and employees, demand for a more sustainable campus, and then unequivocally demand that tuition freezes last forever.

I am all for protesting authorites’ abuse of power and standing up for freedom of expression, but I believe that we must meet authority halfway. How? By attempting to understand why and how certain actions are taken, and avoiding the pitfalls of self-negating triviality.

Activism is a surprisingly sensitive art. Without an analytical viewpoint on the construction and motivations of power share-holders, we might as well wave our pretty banners around and enthusiastically chant our mantras in a vacuum.

Sarah Flatto is a U3 Political Science student. When she’s not on the picket lines, she can be reached at sarahflatto@gmail.com.


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