With the term of Morton Mendelson as Deputy Provost (Student Life & Learning) set to end on August 31, 2013, the University has created a committee to choose his replacement.
Despite being tasked with choosing a student-centred position, the committee only has two student representatives, compared to three representatives from the Board of Governors and four Senate representatives. As such, students have 2 out of 9 votes in selecting a person that will work directly with and for them. Reduced student influence lends itself to ineffective representation; one undergraduate student representative is responsible for speaking for 25,938 students with diverse opinions and desires.
The advisory committee also fails to represent the needs and concerns of students in programs like those on Macdonald campus or in Continuing Education, who face different difficulties than downtown campus undergraduates. But ultimately, the advisory committee is just that: advisory. The final decision on who will be in charge of the most important student-related issues will be in the hands of the Board of Governors, a body composed of people out of touch with current student needs. Whether the Board of Governors follows the recommendation given by the advisory committee will not be known because details of what the committee discusses are bound by confidentiality. The process of choosing a new deputy provost is thus marked by a lack of accountability and student representation
The Deputy Provost (Student Life & Learning) position was created in 2006, meaning that Mendelson has been the only person in the position. In the years since, McGill students have seen the loss of autonomous space in the Arch Café, a lack of support for crucial student services like SACOMSS, and ever-increasing separation between the institution of McGill and its constituents through the removal of the McGill name from student groups. The absence of consultation and communication between Mendelson’s position and the student body is clear, and was made clearer by the occupation of his office in February protesting the nullification of CKUT and QPIRG’s referenda.
This disconnect is only exacerbated by the physical detachment of Mendelson’s office. A position that supposedly dictates central elements of student life on campus is six floors above us in the James Administration building, amongst administrators who spend their time perfecting policy and traveling internationally to promote a reputation, rather than being accessible to students. One of the demands of the #6party occupation was to relocate the office to Service Point; this way, student interests take precedence over administrative constraints, and the population most affected is not dissuaded from addressing their concerns.
Before merely delegating the task of choosing Mendelson 2.0 to a committee, we should have the opportunity to look at the position itself and see if it is one that we want to continue to fill. Candidates should be coming from a background focused on student needs, not a detached academic position or a bureaucratic thought process. Anyone who steps in needs to be familiar with and sensitive to the context of McGill’s campus and student body in order to avoid repeating the devastating mistakes of their predecessor.