Commentary  Editorial: Residence director must improve, or go

For years, students moving into residence at McGill have been asked to live according to two rules: “Respect,” and “Don’t fuck with the fire equiptment.” From this, students were expected to understand the necessity of taking care of their building and fellow students. In turn, students could expect their floor fellows and hall directors to treat them like adults and look out for their best interests.

Recent interviews with some floor fellows indicate that Michael Porritt, the recently appointed Executive Director of McGill’s residence system, wants to change this. At a meeting with the entire residences staff earlier this year, he claimed that 18 year-olds don’t have the cognitive capacity to comprehend what the respect rule entails, and implied that floor fellows, at most only a few years older, might lack this capacity as well – though the law recognizes the great majority of McGill students as legal adults. As a result, Porritt sees the need to ensure that floor fellows and hall directors act in line with policies already on the books. As well, he plans to change polices where he feels it is appropriate.

But those changes appear to go beyond the simple enforcement of the policies already in place. For example, floor fellows say Porritt has suggested strengthening the University’s alcohol policy with regard to drinking in common spaces, but allowing alcohol to be consumed in unmarked containers – showing that Porritt’s desire to keep the University free from the liability of knowing about drinking is greater than his concerns about student safety.

He also reportedly despises a practice where floor fellows allow students to tell them about their drug use in a sealed envelope – to be opened only in the event an emergency – and told the staff that if they don’t feel comfortable sitting down with a student and strongly discouraging them from using drugs, that they shouldn’t re-apply to be a floor fellow.

Porritt seems to neglect the positive effect of the harm reduction policies that prevail in McGill’s residences. Floor fellows are there to look out for students’ safety in a non-judgemental manner, and implementing a no-tolerance ethic in Rez will only keep them out of touch with students on their floors, preventing them from doing their jobs effectively and creating a more dangerous situation for first years. We’re at university and we should be treated like adults, and trusted with making our own decisions. That goes for the team of floor fellows, whose primary aim must remain to support their students, no matter what circumstances arise.

Porritt’s suggestions are representative of a larger trend on the part of the administration toward minimizing potential sources of liability and running the University increasingly like a business, from buying up student-run food services to revoking the rights of student groups to use the McGill name.

Porritt’s attitude is all wrong for him to continue as Executive Director – a position that he is not well-qualified for to begin with. So far he has managed McGill Residences like they belong to a U.S. school, though we live in a province with cultural values and policies that are quite different. If his approach doesn’t change soon, he should be removed from the position – either shuffled to another job, or dismissed. Further, a system of communication should be put in place within residence so that floor fellows’ concerns can be an integral part of the decision-making process in the future.

Progressive harm reduction techniques that ensure the safety of students while leaving them the ability to learn and grow must continue. We must be wary of any efforts to restrict the rights of students in Rez, and stand in solidarity with them should such changes occur. We urge students to mobilize around this issue. To start, get in touch with your floor fellows, and discuss these concerns with members of the administration. Our system of residences is incredibly unique, and new students deserve to have the same experience that we had.