Commentary | Just say no to Bills 38 and 44

Government encroachment on educational institutions should be stopped

The provincial Ministry of Education is currently in the process of conducting consultative hearings on the proposed Bills 38 and 44, concerning university and CEGEP governance. The bills are scheduled to be presented to the National Assembly this fall. Stakeholders from postsecondary institutions throughout Quebec, including the Students’ Society of McGill University, most student associations, employees’ unions, and administrations are linking arms in opposition.

Why? Because Bills 38 and 44 threaten university and CEGEP autonomy and internal democracy. Take note of article 4.0.3 of Bill 38 – it states that “at least 60 per cent of members of the board of directors must qualify as independent directors,” while only 25 per cent must come from the university community. What does this mean for universities and CEGEPs in Quebec? If the bills are passed by the National Assembly, postsecondary institutions in the province would have reduced independence in tailoring the structure of their boards of directors to their unique needs.

Worse still, the restrictive effects of the bills would unquestionably result in the reservation of fewer board seats for internal and, often, democratically-elected representatives: students, members of academic and non-academic staff, et cetera. In short, fewer seats on managing boards for professors, non-academic staff, alumni, and students will mean that these groups will have less of a say in the management and direction of their university. More seats will go to “independent” representatives, who come largely from the private sector to direct the affairs of our educational institutions.

Why is this wrong? Misguided philosophy and bad causation. What precipitated the birth of these bills? The real estate fiasco at UQAM, which came to light in 2007 and led to a government bail-out, in the region of $400 million. Some of the heads that rolled came from within the university community. Naturally, the provincial government reacted by saying “Never again!”

In keeping with the now entrenched ideology of the primacy of the private sector, the Ministry of Education convinced itself that businessmen and CEOs should be sent to the rescue. Apparently there’s nothing better than a shot of private sector business models to inoculate universities against the mismanagement of those klutzy eggheads. It’s almost as if the Ministry suspects that people with an actual stake in their postsecondary institutions are too blinded by their bias to be capable of properly counting numbers. Instead, the Ministry would like us to feel confident that businessmen never take risks. And we should also believe that businessmen will always have wholehearted concern for the well-being of institutions that they have little vested interest in.

If the Ministry had had the hindsight to properly review the events surrounding the UQAM real estate fiasco, they may well have noticed that abundant opposition to the imprudence of the real estate scheme came from within the university community. Students and employee unions from UQAM demonstrated and passed General Assembly motions against the projects. Unfortunately, the primary responsible party, ex-principal Roch Denis, had previously been a professor and union leader at UQAM, so the political elites in Quebec City drew the conclusion that decision-makers emanating from within universities could not be trusted.

In many respects, these bills are a result of the poor causation illustrated above. Now the Quebec postsecondary community is being forced into a corner. From student associations to university administrations to employees’ unions, there is widespread dissatisfaction with Bills 38 and 44. Given the general consensus that they must be seriously amended, if not outright rejected, you’d think that the Ministry would listen. And while the Ministry’s education committee is conducting consultative hearings, Minister Michelle Courchesne remains resolute in her conviction that these bills should pass into law. With a majority Liberal government in the National Assembly, she’ll probably get her way.

I ask all McGill students to inform themselves and mobilize to oppose these bills and support university autonomy and internal democracy.

A demonstration is being held on October 1 at 12:30 in Parc Émilie-Gamelin (near Berri-UQAM). If you have any questions or comments, write Sebastian Ronderos-Morgan (VP External Affairs of SSMU) at external@ssmu.mcgill.ca.


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