On September 18, the Arts Undergraduate Society (AUS) held their bi-weekly Council meeting to discuss the Charter of Values, and the potential of General Assemblies (GAs).
The Arts Undergraduate Society (AUS) Council – with two on-the-spot additions to the agenda by President Justin Fletcher – discussed what the AUS’s stance would be regarding the Quebec Charter of Values, the functionality of GAs, and whether the AUS should hold them.
The Charter of Values
While it is a student faculty association of McGill, as an organization the AUS is able to take stances on political issues that are independent of the University. For instance, two years ago during the student strike, the AUS held a General Assembly where students voted against a motion on a faculty-wide strike.
“AUS is not part of [the] McGill [administration], so McGill taking a stance doesn’t say anything for us,” said AUS President Justin Fletcher during a discussion on the Charter of Values. “Unlike SSMU, we don’t have a provision in our constitution regarding external issues, so the AUS council could take a stance.”
The Charter of Values – a proposal from the Parti Québécois government that prohibits the wearing of “overt and conspicuous” religious symbols by public employees, including doctors, daycare workers, and public servants, has been a contentious issue for many in Quebec and at McGill. Last week, Principal Suzanne Fortier released a statement supporting McGill’s commitment to diversity. As well, at their General Meeting on September 19, the Post-Graduate Students’ Society passed a motion that opposed the Charter.
In addition, last year, AUS implemented an Equity Policy, which mandates AUS to respect diversity.
“Arts students learn from people who will be affected by [the] law. And we go to a school that has a world renowned, among other things, Middle East Studies program and an Islamic Studies program that will obviously be affected if any of the teachers happen to be Muslim, and abide by the tenet of the religion that you have to wear a headscarf; suddenly we won’t be able to have them as teachers, and that will obviously hurt the value of education,” said Arts Representative Ben Reedijk.
However, Fortier stated at a Senate meeting on September 20 that McGill would have the option as a university to opt out of the Charter.
Although AUS did not formally take a stance on the Charter, Fletcher explained in an email to The Daily that he believed “it is important to have a dialogue to open the discussion” about the possibility of a stance.
Many councillors were also concerned about AUS’s authority to represent the entire student body of the Arts faculty. One of the solutions suggested was the possibility of holding a General Assembly, at which time a motion on the Charter could be brought forward.
“Consultation with the student body is a must,” said Canadian Studies Association of Undergraduate Students VP External Alex Nevitte. “We probably shouldn’t accept a certain view as a foregone conclusion, even though it probably is.”
AUS VP Internal Enbal Singer shared a similar sentiment. “We do have a very large Quebecois population at McGill, which unfortunately isn’t, in general, heard very much. I do question what those students would have to say about this, and how that might affect them.”
Low turnout at General Assemblies
AUS also discussed the feasibility of General Assemblies (GAs), which have notoriously poor turnout – a concern raised by many at the Council meeting.
Fletcher told The Daily in an email that GAs had proven to be problematic for AUS in the past. “General Assemblies struggle to reach quorum because timing an event can not accommodate every student’s schedule, and perhaps students [are] finding the topics of discussion not a priority relative to other academic or personal commitments,” Fletcher wrote.
The general consensus among councillors, however, was one that recognized the importance of GAs for democratic decision-making within the Faculty.
“I think it’s very important [...] that we as executives and as externals really publicize the importance of attending [General Assemblies], as places for [students'] voice to be heard,” noted Department of English Student Association (DESA) VP External Chloe Sauder. “Otherwise we have situations as what happened in DESA [during the student strike], where students will hold their own GAs, in order to have their own motions pass, which undermines the AUS.”
In an interview with The Daily, Arts Senator Claire Stewart-Kanigan said, “If folks are not feeling represented by the decision that the GA comes to, they still have the right to express themselves. McGill is in a unique situation in that our departments are not accredited, which means that their decisions are not regarded as binding when a contrary decision has been made by the faculty association.”
“As long as this remains the case, umbrella organizations like the AUS have a heightened responsibility to engage with departments to ensure they are feeling represented,” Stewart-Kanigan added.