At a university, our most valuable currency is the free exchange of ideas. The right of students to express themselves and feel safe in their campus environment is one defended throughout the world. It is something that any student body should be able to count on. But two recent moves by the administration have called their support for student free speech into question.
Last week two undergraduate students were told that disciplinary proceedings against them had begun for participating in an October 11 sit-in at the Y intersection of lower campus. The administration stated that the proceedings were due to violations of two sections of the Student Code of Conduct.
Another incident earlier this semester saw McGill’s Department of Human Resources department threatening unspecified disciplinary action towards two graduate students in the Faculty of Medicine who were collecting signatures in support of MUNACA.
It’s hypocritical for the administration to claim to uphold a “longstanding McGill tradition of respectful and civil discourse” – according to Heather Munroe-Blum’s latest email – in its governance of the University while policing free speech amongst its students. This is not how a university should relate to its students. University administration has no business threatening punishments based on the political views of students.
Not only are McGill’s charges towards its students unacceptable and inappropriate, they’re inaccurate. For example, the Arts students were told they were violating school rules by blocking traffic on campus.
Not only was this demonstration peaceful and accommodating to all campus traffic, one of the accused students, the SSMU VP External Joël Pedneault, wasn’t even at the October 11 demonstration. According to his fellow SSMU Executives, Pedneault was at a meeting, doing the job students elected him to do.
This is not the first time McGill has tried to silence voices on campus. The injunction against MUNACA’s picketing strategies and the administration’s thwarting of Professor Michelle Hartman’s attempt to avoid picket lines by holding her classes off-campus are among a few further examples from the last two months.
At a demonstration organized by professors in response to McGill’s first injunction against MUNACA, Derek Nystrom, a professor in the English department, addressed the crowd, saying “Make no mistake, if they can silence MUNACA in the way that they are doing here, they will silence the rest of us when our time comes.” Based on the administration’s recent behaviour, they are already trying to silence us.
But as students we won’t tolerate this kind of intimidation, especially not from an administration that has taken to preaching about the importance of “McGill community.” If the two undergraduate students are found guilty, or the university’s threats against the students continues, the McGill community will not stand for it. As Munroe Blum stated “We are all McGill”. We will not idly watch while our fellow community members are silenced.