The Board of Governors (BoG), the highest decision-making body at McGill, met last Tuesday in the James Administration building with over thirty students in the gallery. This is the second time in almost three weeks that space in James Administration has been occupied by students.
Gallery members, who do not have speaking rights at BoG meetings, interrupted the meeting’s open session twice. When the meeting was to go into a closed session, students refused to leave, forcing the closed session to reconvene in Principal Heather Munroe-Blum’s office.
The meeting began with remarks regarding the events of November 10, a brief labour update, and news on fall convocation from Munroe-Blum.
SSMU President Maggie Knight, one of two voting student representatives on the BoG, asked Munroe-Blum questions regarding the Jutras investigation of the events of November 10. In the middle of one of her questions, a chorus of the union song “Solidarity forever” broke out among gallery members.
Knight continued to ask her next question to Munroe-Blum. However, their exchange was drowned out by a second chorus.
U4 Arts student Alex Timmons was present in the boardroom, and spoke to the singing from students.
“Some folks came up with the idea… Someone whispered it to me – and when someone started singing it, I joined in,” he said. He added that the chorus “was happening at a symbolic time when HMB was continuously cutting off the one [undergraduate] student representative on the Board.”
The meeting resumed with Munroe-Blum giving members a highlight of parts of the Annual Report on the University. When speaking about how the University will respond to the Diversity Task Force released last February, members of the gallery began laughing.
At the conclusion of the public session, Chair Stuart Cobbett asked gallery members to leave for the meeting to proceed into its closed session. When students did not leave, Cobbett called for a recess. He noted that the BoG’s closed session is upheld by statutes and bylaws.
“This Board is responsible for making extremely important decisions at the University, this Board has the last word on what happens at the University and we, the students assembled here, are very unhappy with certain things that have happened at the University,” said one student who refused to leave the meeting.
“We have had no say in how this University is governed,” she added.
Before leaving the room, Roland Nassim, president of the Post-Graduate Students’ Society and the second voting student representative on the BoG, addressed students remaining in the room.
“Obviously this is an action to interrupt a University business, and my question to the people who are here is, who do you actually represent?” Nassim asked. “Do you have a mandate here? We can show our disagreement with the University in respectful ways.”
In an interview with The Daily, Timmons explained the action. “We don’t need to come with official organizational mandates– that’s not going to help us at all… This is supposed to be a back-to-basics student movement that’s not hierarchical.”
As Cobbett left the boardroom, he told the students, “This is not the time or place.”
BoG members left the room throughout the course of the recess. The closed session continued in the Munroe-Blum’s office on the fifth floor until about 7 p.m.
Associate Vice-Principal (University Services) Jim Nicell and Deputy Provost (Student Life and Learning) Morton Mendelson sat with the 29 students who refused to leave, a number of whom occupied the empty seats of BoG members.
A discussion amongst the students, Mendelson, and Nicell ensued for nearly two hours. Topics included student use of the McGill name, the closure of the Architecture Café, and corporate influence in the BoG, notably corporate positions held by members-at-large.
Mendelson and Nicell spoke to The Daily after the protesting students decided by vote to leave the boardroom slightly before 8:30 p.m.
“I think it’s a shame that the only way that students felt they could make a point – which they have made several times before in other ways – was to disrupt the activities of the University by shutting down the Board of Governors,” Mendelson said.
“Students are feeling disenfranchised – this is very clear,” said Nicell “What it signals to me is that there has to be better ways of reaching out to students, making sure they feel included.”