Commentary  Reviewing access to information


When Principal Heather Munroe-Blum travels west to Mac campus to answer questions during her twice-yearly Town Hall meeting on November 12, it will be the first time for students to interact with her since the awkward “Meet the Stars” event on September 10. While the Town Hall is geared toward debate – after a brief introduction, Munroe-Blum fields questions from McGill staff and students – the administrators are in control at all times. The administration chooses the forum within which interaction with members of the McGill community will take place, a structure which is indicative of the administration’s poor relationship with students. And by sectioning just a couple hours per semester for debate, Town Halls restrict the volume of voices reaching the administration.

Another recent example of administrative decisions showing the disconnect between values at McGill is Deputy Provost (Student Life & Learning) Morton Mendelson’s new travel directive. The rules will restrict academic and extra-curricular travel to politically sensitive countries, and denies graduate and undergraduate students the ability to make informed adult decisions about where to fly. Mendelson has kept the details of the travel directive tightly under wraps, refusing even to let SSMU executives know what impact it could have on student research in foreign countries.

McGill students deserve access to information about issues that matter to them. Without an appropriate disseminating apparatus in place, the McGill administration creates a hierarchy of information that leaves students in the dark.

One of the most common ways for students and staff to hear from the administration is the campus press. Yet The Daily has had increasing problems getting information, since the administration rarely prioritizes our requests for comments on McGill news. Whether we have questions on union relations or food services on campus, we find ourselves pestering sympathetic secretaries instead of actually reaching our University’s head honchos. When we do get through, we often get canned email responses that skate gracefully around the pressing issues at hand. Sometimes the administration controls information to the point that they restrict their employees from speaking with us. When a new Subway restaurant was set to move into the Arts Basement, Food Services administrator Bill Pageau waited a week and a half before granting his employees leave to speak with our reporter. But Pageau is not the only one, and it seems the administration does not value answering students who make up the University.

Earlier this semester, some McGill administrators came down from their perch in the James Building for 30 minutes of awkward conversation with innocent bystanders near the McLennan library. The poorly advertised event, dubbed “Meet the Stars,” saw administrators adorned in flashy jewel-encrusted sunglasses. Provost Anthony Masi doled out free pizza, while Munroe-Blum bumbled over small-talk about students’ academic choices. Library Director Janine Schmidt even asked students, “Have you spoken to the Principal yet? She just loves to talk with students!”

One of few outreach activities organized by the administration, “Meet the Stars” disrespected students by failing to provide any real structure for airing opinions or grievances. And considering the amount of pizza ordered, it appears the administration didn’t expect much interest in the event, either. It’s nice that they try to have a sense of humour – but this is yet another example of the administration structuring their interactions with students to avoid fruitful forums for debate.

The McGill administration needs to take off their cheesy plastic sunglasses and see the student body for what it is. Our campus is made up of intelligent and opinionated adults who deserve to be informed about our University.