October 20, 2014

Commentary | March 8, 2012
Dismissed on ambiguous charges
Why the dismissal of Solin Hall floor fellows hurts free speech on campus

Last Wednesday, Francis (Danji) Buck-Moore and Drew Childerhose were dismissed from their positions as floor fellows at Solin Hall as a consequence of their involvement in the sixth floor occupation of the James Administration building in February. The Daily believes that the political actions these students take outside of their roles as floor fellows should not be grounds for termination, as they have no bearing on their abilities to perform their jobs.

A petition signed by 61 floor fellows, MORE fellows, and Dons, was submitted to Michael Porritt, the executive director of McGill Residences and Student Housing, opposing the two floor fellows’ termination. There was also a petition signed by professors and students (Full disclosure: members of the Daily’s editorial board signed the aforementioned petition.) It is clear that neither the community they serve nor their colleagues believe that their participation in student protests warrants their dismissal. Porritt’s decision seems even more unreasonable considering Buck-Moore and Childerhose’s terminations will only harm the students on their floors – students in whose best interests Porritt is ostensibly supposed to act. Dismissing the floor fellows they have come to trust, in the stressful period leading up to exams, is not beneficial for these students’ welfare.

The specific details of Buck-Moore and Childerhose’s dismissal have not been released. The floor fellows were told that they were fired due to their involvement in #6party. Buck-Moore and Childerhose’s contracts had no termination clause, though guidelines in the job description state that floor fellows, MORE fellows, and dons must be “positive role model[s].” However, absence of specific language defining positive behaviour means the administration’s interpretation of what constitutes a “good role model” is alarmingly discretionary. In the opinion of the McGill floor fellows who signed the petition, Buck-Moore and Childerhose’s “participation in the non-violent occupation of the 6th floor…[is] a testament to their dedication to their university community and engagement in student life.” Given that the residence community expressed support for the dismissed fellows, it is clear that Porritt’s consultation was just an empty gesture.

Dismissing Buck-Moore and Childerhose for neglecting their duties for the five days they were absent during the occupation, if that is the specific reason for their dismissal, is not a reasonable or proportional response – particularly in light of their overall performance and track record, which was attested to by at least 61 of their coworkers. If they are being fired for not being available to their students, it seems counter-intuitive to deprive the Solin students of their presence for the next two months. If the reason for Buck-Moore and Childerhose’s termination isn’t that they failed in their floor fellow responsibilities, the alternative explanation seems to be that they are being dismissed for participating in the political protest itself.

The fact that student employees can be dismissed for arbitrary reasons at the discretion of the administration is worrying. Any employee, no matter how they may be remunerated, should be provided with clear and unambiguous grounds for firing. It appears to us that in this situation McGill may have taken advantage of ambiguous wording in the floor fellow contract and opaquely interpreted a “positive role model” to mean someone who toes the administration’s line. In an equitable work situation, one cannot be fired for political opinions or actions, yet it seems that is exactly what happened to Buck-Moore and Childerhose.

McGill needs to lay out clear-cut and specific language when it comes to its dealings with students and staff. As it stands, McGill’s modus operandi is one where its vague guidelines and loose regard for student opinion allow the administration to act as both judge and juror. This situation is part of a larger trend where the administration regularly takes unilateral action with a complete disregard for public opinion – the ultimate result being an environment of fear on campus that stifles dissenting student voices.

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