Commentary | Hyde Park: Research is an academic matter, and travel is not tourism

An open letter to Morton Mendelson against the new travel directive

Dear Dr. Morton Mendelson,

As you are well aware, the McGill administration has recently approved a policy that prohibits students from travelling for academic purposes to countries the Canadian government has ranked unsafe for travel. The Senate has motioned to suspend this directive. Claiming that this is an administrative matter, not an academic one, the administration has refused to accept the Senate’s decision. As executive members of the Middle East Studies Students’ Association (MESSA) we would like to publicly declare our opposition to this new directive.

To deem this directive an administrative and not an academic issue is unacceptable. If maintained, this ill-advised directive will be detrimental to the University as an institution. As such, we must in good conscience oppose this policy and should continue to do so until it is repealed. 

To claim that the matter is exclusively administrative is indefensible. After all, it is curricular travel that is to be restricted. Many disciplines within the University centre their research upon areas that are currently covered by the travel advisories. Not only will the Department of Middle East Studies and the Institute for Islamic Studies suffer, but also the Departments of International Development Studies, African Studies, and Political Science. The University’s policy will prevent undergraduates from receiving credit for internships fulfilled in such countries. Most egregiously, the directive will also prevent graduate students from carrying out area-specific research.

Travelling for academic purposes is not tourism.

Some of the best and most necessary work to be done today is done in areas considered unsafe. For many of us, an internship or thesis is the first major step of our chosen careers, careers that may bring us to politically unstable areas. Research in these regions is not without risk, but it is crucially important. To continue to enforce this directive will be to prevent the University from engaging with some of the most pressing issues of our day.

The overwhelming majority of McGill students are legal adults. The degree of personal risk we are willing to assume is under our purview alone. We strongly urge you to allow the Senate to exercise the authority with which it is invested. Do not strip us of the ability to decide our own academic futures.

With respect,

The executive members of the Middle East Studies Student Association (MESSA).

MESSA McGill can be reached at