Commentary | Addressing McGill’s policy gaps

PGSS members deserve access to a better equity complaint process

Recent events at the Post-Graduate Students’ Society (PGSS) have drawn attention to concerns regarding collective harassment, structural oppression, and numerous grievances between society members. We would like to highlight the policy gaps at McGill University that have contributed to the dysfunctional climate that has denied members of the McGill community the ability to resolve these issues fairly within the PGSS.

From our point of view, we are concerned by: 1) the PGSS Board of Directors’ actions following the controversial husting (electoral debate) on February 20; namely, using the PGSS website and listserv to distribute biased evidence, including secretly recorded, partial audio, and an incomplete transcript that published the names of PGSS members without consent; 2) the subsequent use of this “evidence” in motivating the censure motion against the PGSS Equity Commissioner during PGSS Council on April 10; and 3) the public release this week of the PGSS Board’s report to the May 1 Council meeting that recommended the removal of the Equity Commissioner and refuted all grievances (including complaints of sexual harassment) brought forward to the Board on April 3. These actions are indicative of the need for a more equitable student union.

Over two months of consultation by the PGSS Equity Committee, which included the Associate Provost (Policies, Procedures & Equity), has revealed that McGill’s policies on harassment do not apply to student societies at McGill, even in the absence of internal policies or procedures. This oversight leaves PGSS members with no recourse within McGill University for events occurring within PGSS that could fall under McGill’s Policy on Harassment, Sexual Harassment and Discrimination Prohibited by Law. Additionally, McGill’s Dean of Students has acknowledged that the Code of Student Conduct cannot address collective violations and so McGill community members who have experienced collective harassment and/or oppression can only bring individual claims. Thus collective abuse in any lab, office, department, or student union can only be addressed through individual complaints, unfairly burdening the victim.

Specifically at PGSS, the lack of policies and procedures to resolve internal grievances and complaints led to informal consultations by PGSS members since February with a McGill assessor of complaints related to Harassment, Sexual Harassment and Discrimination Prohibited by Law and the Ombudsperson of McGill University. Afterward, grievances against several PGSS Executives were brought on April 3 by the External Affairs Officer and the Equity Commissioner, with support from other PGSS members, to the attention of the Board (as reported by The Daily on April 4). Since this time, the Board has, in the absence of policies and procedures within PGSS, overextended the use of Robert’s Rules to investigate these grievances. Robert’s Rules pertains to elections, voting, decorum in meetings, and the legal rights of assemblies, officers, and members; while the rule book does cover disciplinary procedures it does not offer any specific recommendations for investigating harassment.

Before the Board’s investigation concluded, the Executive Committee moved counter-allegations supported by problematic evidence (see points 1 and 2 above) during the closed session portion of the April 10 Council meeting, resulting in a motion of censure passing against the Equity Commissioner. At the next Council meeting on May 1, the Board summarized their one-month investigation and report, which refuted the grievances summarized by the External Affairs Officer, Equity Commissioner, and other PGSS members on April 3. The Board’s report also raised new, undisclosed counter-allegations against the Equity Commissioner. After two hours of closed session debate questioning the report and investigation, Council did not approve by supermajority (or two-thirds of the vote) the Board’s recommendation to remove the Equity Commissioner. Since the May 1 Council meeting, the Board has published their report online, without a single correction, and emailed the link to over 8000 PGSS members. The conclusion of the grievance process thus far within PGSS raises many concerns for the entire McGill community.

Members of the McGill administration, the PGSS Board, Council, and increasingly PGSS members, acknowledge the absence of policies and procedures to resolve internal grievances and claims of harassment at PGSS. Because of these gaps, the Board has exceeded its purview by influencing society affairs, Council has conducted business in a covert, unaccountable manner with biased evidence, and the Equity Commissioner has been unfairly targeted.

After a year of work that includes collaborating with the Equity Committee to: implement an online equity complaints form at PGSS, revise the PGSS Policy on Equity and Diversity to include an equity complaints procedure, prepare a report on social sustainability at PGSS to review equity, diversity, interconnectedness, quality of life, governance and democratic practices, implement the first survey of PGSS members’ equity experiences, explore the policy gaps at McGill University for PGSS members, and bring forward grievances by PGSS members – the PGSS Equity Commissioner has acted within her mandate to represent the PGSS’ interests in equity issues on campus.

When any community member is targeted with counter-allegations, disciplinary procedures, and defamation to such an extent, a more equitable student union is the only solution. PGSS needs to embrace equity and actively work to support the Equity Committee and Equity Commissioner in their efforts to develop badly needed policies and procedures at PGSS. Further, all complaints, including those regarding harassment, deserve an independent, fair investigation of the facts. PGSS must take action to ensure members have access to internal mechanisms to resolve all complaints justly. The first step should include implementing Section 8 of the revised PGSS Policy on Equity and Diversity so that PGSS members can have access to an equity complaints process with informal and formal resolution procedures.

Signed,

Gretchen King, PGSS Equity Commissioner
rosalind hampton, VP Diversity and Equity, EGSS; AGSEM TA Unit Grievance Officer (2012-2013)
Jacob Sagrans, PGSS Equity Committee member
Ifeyinwa Mbakogu, PGSS Equity Committee member
Shaina Agbayani, SSMU Equity Commissioner
Justin Koh, SSMU Equity Commissioner
Abby Lippman, Professor Emerita, past Chair of the McGill Senate Subcommittee on Women (~2006-2011)
Adrienne Hurley, Chair of the Advisory Committee on the Charter of Student Rights 2010-2011; member of the Advisory Committee on the Charter of Student Rights, 2009-2010
Amalia Slobogian, Chair of the AGSEM Equity Committee; AGSEM Teaching Assistants Unit Grievance Officer


Comments posted on The McGill Daily's website must abide by our comments policy.
A change in our comments policy was enacted on January 23, 2017, closing the comments section of non-editorial posts. Find out more about this change here.