About fifty students, faculty, and community members, including striking McGill non-academic workers, gathered off-campus last Thursday evening to take part in a student-led initiative to reform McGill’s governance structure, beginning with the University’s Board of Governors (BoG).
The BoG – the highest decisionmaking body in the University – is made up of 25 voting members and two student non-voting observers, and meets six times a year.
The initiative, known as the McGill Governance Reform Project (MGRP), emerged from a demonstration immediately following November 10.
One of the project organizers, former Daily News and Features editor Niko Block, recounted how discussions around the project began on November 11.
“We need to do something that is big and lasting, and we need to create some fundamental institutional change at McGill,” he explained.
“We need governance reform because there’s no accountability whatsoever within this institution,” Block added.
Stephen Strople, McGill secretary-general, commented on the MGRP in a statement to The Daily.
“I believe the Board is always interested in hearing what its members say about governance or other issues, and that, of course, includes its student members,” he said.
Arts Representative to SSMU Jamie Burnett spoke to the significance of governance reform.
“McGill is, and always has been, a fundamentally undemocratic institution, and I think that undemocratic institutions don’t produce good decisions for the people that make up that institution and are affected by the decisions and activities of that institution,” he said.
A group of between 15 and 20 students met twice before Thursday’s assembly in order to plan and organize. SSMU VP Clubs & Services Carol Fraser facilitated the assembly, which ran according to loose Robert’s Rules of Order.
Three proposals were brought to the meeting and ratified. The proposal on the project’s guidelines states that the project’s assembly “stands in support of a governance structure that is democratic, transparent, accountable, and more appropriately reflects the social and academic interests of the McGill community in the context of broader society.”
The next two proposals addressed the structure of a commission and a follow-up assembly.
The commission will consist of 12 members responsible for researching and presenting recommendations at a subsequent general assembly. However, the election of commissioners stopped due to a debate over the election process.
Associate Islamic Studies Professor Michelle Hartman voiced her concerns.
“This is a certain assembly of people who were able to come at a certain time… It’s a bit weird to be talking about governance reform and all these democratic processes and using Robert’s Rules of Order and doing this in a very proper way, but then to form a commission from people sitting in a room and to just appoint them is, to me, ironic.”
After two hours, quorum was lost, at which point the assembly became an informal discussion regarding how the assembly was run.
Associate History Professor Daviken Studnicki-Gizbert explained that the assembly had focused too much on amendments to the wording of proposals.
“My reading of the situation was that we latched onto the wording,” he said.
Speaking to The Daily after the assembly, Burnett said, “I think it represents a lot of the problems that we’re trying to solve in terms of people at McGill. Whether they’re students or workers of the community around the University, [they] don’t have a lot of experience working with each other, and don’t have a lot of experience talking about what a community is.”
“I think a lot of students who have been doing the planning for this just didn’t understand where other people may be coming from and didn’t structure the meeting in such a way that those concerns really could be brought in,” Burnett added.
Gregory Mikkelson, an associate professor in the Environment and Philosophy departments, spoke about his impressions immediately after the assembly ended.
“I’m really glad that this happened – that there’s an effort being made. I’m not entirely clear on whether they’ll be able to pull it off, especially in the time that they envision,” he said.
The commission is to finalize its recommendations by January 30, 2012 for ratification before a general assembly.
Block explained the time frame put forward in the assembly.
“A movement can lose a lot of steam over the summer,” he said. “If we don’t accomplish something on a relatively large scale along those lines by the end of the year then I think that we will lose steam and this issue itself could just could kind of die out.”
The follow-up meeting for the MGRP is scheduled for Friday at 3 p.m.