Political and union rallies will likely no longer be granted access to campus space, according to a policy the McGill administration enacted in March.
The controversial new guidelines claim to support an “overarching aim to promote vibrant campus life,” yet various student groups have voiced concerns that the administration will use the policy to restrict student access when booking events.
SSMU VP External Devin Alfaro, who coordinated the Reclaim Your Campus campaign launch last week, suggested that the new guidelines are part of the University’s attempt to stifle student dissent while attracting private sponsorship.
“It’s important for [the administration] in achieving this goal to sanitize campus,” said Alfaro. “One of the most troubling things about this policy is that they reserve the right to stop an event at any time,” he added.
The document states that, “the University is free to deny permission for any gathering and at any time, if the University has reasonable cause to believe that the gathering would disrupt normal University activities, otherwise disrupt the University environment, or promote hatred or violence.”
Leila Pourtavaf, Internal Coordinator of the Quebec Public Interest Research Group (QPIRG) at McGill, also found the implications of the guidelines troubling.
“It’s a precarious position to put student groups in,” Pourtavaf said. “Lots of things could be considered as disrupting normal activities depending on who’s looking at it.”
Pourtavaf pointed out that political and union demonstrations could also be considered a normal part of campus activities.
While student groups fear that the policy would restrict their ability to mobilize on campus, the administration defends the guidelines as an attempt to clarify protocol for space booking on campus.
Deputy Provost (Student Life & Learning) Morton Mendelson, who co-authored the guidelines with other members of the administration, said that although he holds veto power over the room-booking process, very few cases are contentious enough to warant his attention.
“There could be situations in which providing space for political rallies could be seen as being politically biased,” explained Mendelson, voting that Ancillary Services handles the vast majority of event bookings without controversy.
Mendelson refused to indicate a specific event that prompted the guidelines’ creation, but said they were enacted during a period of tense relations between the administration and student groups and unions, such as Association of Graduate Students Employed at McGill (AGSEM) and the McGill University Non-Academic Certified Association (MUNACA).
Mendelson also cited a previous Senate policy regarding student use of outdoor spaces, though the new guidelines apply to both indoor and outdoor space.
However, Richard Hink, president of AGSEM, doubted that these changes have sufficient approval from the McGill community, which could undermine the administration’s ability to enforce the guidelines.
“I speculate as to whether these guidelines could even be held up without the stamp of the Senate,” Hink said.
SSMU VP University Affairs Nadia Wilkinson agreed, and suggested that the administration may have overstepped its jurisdiction by failing to check the policy with another consultative body.
“In the past, stuff like this has gone to Senate,” she explained.
Wilkinson put forth a question to the Senate to ensure that the administration has not unilaterally given itself greater power over the room-booking process, and that the guidelines adhere to past standards of accessibility. The question will be addressed at the next Senate meeting this Wednesday.