Commentary | Concordia’s earthly inspiration

Hyde Park

Many McGill students frown upon Concordia, seeing it less as an institution for higher learning and more as a quirky school whose ranks teem with activists. McGill students’ attitudes toward Concordia’s radicalism and its students’ refusal to “fall in line” motivates them to label Concordia and its student body as inferior. In reality, however, it is McGill elitists who must battle their inferiority complex.

One issue that McGill sorely lags behind Concordia is environmental sustainability. In 2002, Concordia students initiated the Sustainable Concordia Project, further revealing their passion for action albeit in a more peaceful environmental manner. It took McGill students three years to begin a similar project on campus, and the Sustainability Director position was not even crafted until the end of 2007. McGill’s proactive deficiency is so inherent that commerce majors in the Desautels Faculty of Management are required to take Social Context of Business (SCB), a class that has an indirect goal to educate them on the topic and to motivate the business students into “Taking Action.” Such “behind the curve” behavior might lead one to conclude that McGill attracts more reactionary rather than proactive individuals. However, our experiences in SCB last fall suggests a different source for inaction.

For our SCB project early last September, we aimed to implement a composting system at McGill. In the process of meeting and discussing the matter with Sustainability Director Dennis Fortune, we discovered there already was such a proposal in the pipeline. We were subsequently redirected toward determining the source of post-consumer food waste on campus. Much to our disappointment, this task too had been initiated by others in different departments. Unfortunately, administrators failed to inform us of the overlap of intent until too late in the semester for any change to occur. Had we not been tossed back and forth between different administrators who were unaware of the work outside of their immediate departments, the administration might have been able to constructively synthesize students’ energy on a specific issue. It is this type of bureaucratic red tape that fills so many McGill students with chagrin, emasculating their spirit for activism.

McGill’s organizational structure varies greatly from Concordia’s. Their sustainability project takes on a multi-stakeholder approach, where students, faculty, and administrators come together in a collaborative effort. Advisory committees act as liaisons between the administration and the students leading initiatives. In addition, administrative policy is “open to comments from the community,” explains Concordia Environmental and R4 Coordinator Louise Hénault-Éthier. “Basically, both grassroots projects and top-down initiatives meet halfway,” while established committee forums provide the necessary channel through which opinions are expressed and acted upon.

The issue, therefore, has now become one of McGill streamlining communication between students and administrators. But are Concordia’s and McGill’s cultures fundamentally too different for a similar organizational approach to be implemented here? And if so, what values lie at the heart of those two cultures?

Whatever their differences, both universities are educational institutions that seek to unlock the constructive and intellectual capacity of students. Before proceeding further with any lofty projects, the McGill community must first address the failure of one of the most basic needs of a active community: communication and social interaction. By improving upon those deficiencies, the University will be on its way to reclaiming its stature as a leading proactive university in Canada.

Melanie Adelson, Christopher Columb, Alexandra Wong, and Benjamin Wong are U3 Management students and love the planet. You can reach them at