This year McGill students will be organizing to reclaim our campus – because for the past few years, students have begun to notice some severe problems at the University. Lectures hall are packed tighter every year, many programs are underfunded, and even seeing an advisor can be a day-long endeavour. Tuition fees are rising, but from most students’ perspective, the quality of education isn’t getting better.
It has also become more and more difficult to plan events on campus. Protests or overtly political events are now banned, and even planning something as simple as a barbeque costs exorbitant sums of money and takes reams of paperwork and approvals. On top of that, McGill has been treating student groups with little to no respect. Wide-reaching decisions are made without consultation, and more and more authority is centralized and unaccountable to the community.
Twenty years of short-sighted public policy decisions are starting to take their toll. In the interest of lowering taxes, the public sector has been starved of resources – and as a result, universities have become drastically underfunded. When McGill administrators complain about the University’s chronic underfunding, they aren’t lying – but the problem is that they’ve chosen to pass on the burden as far down the chain as possible, to students and employees.
Over the past few years, student groups have taken a hard hit. Given their track record, it seems like the Administration views student groups as more of a nuisance than an integral part of the McGill community. The Quebec Public Interest Research Group (QPIRG) McGill and CKUT-Radio have also been struggling with the Administration over the decision to unilaterally put opt-outs online. Last year, The Daily was forced to fight for its survival in a referendum. The formerly all student-run Architecture Café was taken over by McGill Food Services. Many groups have been evicted from on-and-off-campus space like the Sexual Assault Centre of McGill Students, the McGill Outdoors Club, and the Muslim Students Association.
When students contest these decisions, there is little response from McGill. This was most blatantly apparent when a referendum was passed last year in which students demonstrated their support for independent student groups managing their own opt-out systems. The administration dismissed this result offhand, and was not interested in hearing student opinion. Across campus students are feeling the crunch, and campus life is suffering.
People who work for McGill are feeling the squeeze too. Last year McGill’s TA union, the Association of Graduated Students Employed at McGill, went on strike for 11 weeks. Instead of negotiating in good faith, McGill used intimidation and scare tactics, suspending them from other forms of employment on campus. Likewise, the McGill University Non-Academic Certified Association – which represents support staff like library technicians, nurses, and clerical workers – is currently in the midst of renegotiating their collective agreement. Last week, they voted in a General Assembly to reject McGill’s latest offer. To save a penny, McGill is refusing to give its workers a fair deal. Because of the way that McGill interacts with workers, another semester of labour unrest on campus is on its way.
McGill should be a place where everybody has a voice. We need to band together as a community and fight for decent funding, not pass on the burden of underfunding to those in the weakest position to fight it. McGill should once again make students a priority, and start treating student groups and workers with respect. It’s time to organize. It’s time to draw the links between the issues and speak out against how students and workers are being pushed to the margins of campus.
This year, groups across campus are coming together to do just that. Throughout the year, we’ll be planning events, making noise, and presenting an alternative vision of what McGill could be. Come and join us on Wednesday at noon at the Roddick Gates, for our kick-off event. It will be a festive political picnic where we clearly send the message that this is our campus. We’ll be calling out the McGill Administration on its shameful tactics and demanding respect and inclusion. McGill should be for everybody, and everyone deserves to be heard.