Commentary | Listen up!

An open letter to Heather Munroe-Blum

Dear Principal Munroe-Blum,

A few days ago, I received your invitation to the Centraide umbrella march. The ding of my email alert was accompanied by the distant sound of bells and tambourines from the strikers outside. Reading it, the utter absurdity of the whole strike situation snapped into focus, sharply enough that I started to laugh out loud, in a library where the number of students vastly outstripped that of qualified librarians. I mean, you must be joking.

Not about Centraide. They are a terrific organization, especially in their efforts to help communities organize around common grievances. But seriously, you proposed that students (with their “wacky,” “golf-y” umbrellas) walk through a picket line of an active community who’ve organized to express their grievances in order to, um, walk around with a wacky umbrella some more.

I’m embarrassed for McGill right now – for its administrators, professors, and students. Every day, thousands of us walk past the picket line and are confronted with a vision of exactly how fragmented our campus has become. Few students bother to inform themselves about the goings-on of the strike, and professors (who are justified in their mixed feelings) often dismiss the strike with a groan and a sigh, not wanting to waste valuable class time on explanations of how exactly the strike has interfered with their course reserves or what have you.

The effects of the strike are creeping into focus for nearly everyone now. A theatre production I am involved with has been forced to change venues at a weeks’ notice due to the absence of a highly skilled technician who is also a MUNACA member, and whose absence drastically compromises safety in Moyse Hall. A non-MUNACA-member librarian I often see is overworked to the point of fraying, and feels compelled to keep their support for MUNACA hidden out of fear that they’ll never be tenured. Students conducting their own research have been forced to watch projects they have been working on grind to a halt. And, everywhere, the lines are longer, the faces grimmer, the resentment building.

For what? The ideological issue behind this strike has become more and more apparent as time passes. If we take this university to be what it is: a pulsing, self-sufficient manifestation of the body politic, the issue of the strike comes down to one fact: McGill does not listen to its constituents. McGill has never, in fact, listened to its constituents. The administration’s party line has been, throughout the four years I have spent here, “Shut up and deal with it.” The “bulletins” we have been receiving on the strike have been vague and dismissive, encouraging us all to move along, move on, and to rat on your professors if they choose not to cross the picket line – effectively, to shut this all down with our own indifference.

I’m sick of indifference, Madame Principal, and that’s why you heard me, along with the dozens of other students, employees and faculty showing their support for MUNACA, during the student sit-in outside last Thursday’s Senate meeting. That’s why you saw me, you and the other members of the Senate who were forced to wade through, step over, and otherwise confront the presence of your very dissatisfied students. We’re tired of the administration banking on apathy, striving to keep us uninformed, divided, and content with the little we’re given. You’ll be seeing more of us, and you’ll be hearing more noise. Maybe some more drums. Maybe we should roam through Westmount and keep you and your neighbors up (or maybe that’s my own wishful thinking). If our word is our only weapon, it’s going to be shouted.
Good luck with your efforts to contain, minimize, and wish away this strike. If nothing else, be aware that your actions and those of the administration have only made the problem worse.

Amy Monroe is a U3 Middle Eastern Studies. You can reach her at amy.monroe@mail.mcgill.ca.


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