McGill Senate convened Wednesday to discuss university affairs for the second time this academic year. Principal Heather Munroe-Blum’s remarks on the arrests of two protesters at last week’s Choose Life event and the administration’s decision to drastically raise tuition for the McGill’s Master of Business Administration (MBA) program drew a strong response from some student senators. In addition, a motion was tabled addressing the emergency warnings that have appeared on course outlines.
Choose Life protest a “dark cloud” over campus
In her opening remarks, Principal Heather Munroe-Blum addressed the demonstration last Tuesday that effectively led to the cancellation of Choose Life event “Echoes of the Holocaust”. Munroe-Blum criticized the protesters for having denied the pro-life group’s guest speaker, Jose Ruba of the Canadian Centre for Bio-Ethical Reform, his right to freely express his views.
“The intimidation of protestors was so significant that students who were involved in the planning of the event were intimidated against continuing with their program. I see this really as blight in the context of a university that is known worldwide for its academic freedom and freedom of speech…. I urge them to consider reconvening the event right away,” said Munroe-Blum. She added that the protest cast a “dark cloud” over campus last week.
Arts Senator Sarah Woolf responded to Munroe-Blum, expressing dismay that the University would endorse an event to which a large number of students were opposed. SSMU VP University Affairs Rebecca Dooley then explained why SSMU Council had censured the event.
“I want to emphasize to the Senate body that while it is important in terms of freedom of speech, it is also important to consider that environments that are hostile and draw people to one side – hate-speech – marginalize a person’s ability to engage in collegial debate,” said Dooley.
University Provost Anthony Masi joined the discussion, comparing the protest to thought-policing.
“[The event] took place behind closed doors, no one was forced [to go]…. We do have rules about where the line is, but the fact of the matter is that we expect major disagreements to be the norm on our campus. Differences of points of view are important, but not intimidation, silencing, or thought police,” said Masi.
Masi cited the movement to protect freedom of expression at the University of California at Berkeley as an example of the culture he would like to see at McGill, commenting that the right to free speech should be universal, and that discourse between political rivals on campus should be conducted respectfully.
Students cold on MBA fee hike
Following last month’s announcement that tuition for the MBA program will jump to $29,500, Munroe-Blum addressed concerns that the program will be financially prohibitive for many graduate students by stating that the hike was necessary for the program to remain competitive.
“It is an exceptional move on the part of the faculty, the administration, and the Board of Governors that targets a significant increase in tuition fees tied to a graduate professional level program,” said Munroe-Blum. “[The program] has been disproportionately drawing subsidization from our large undergraduate student program because of the gap in the costs of supporting MBA students on an annual basis,” she said.
Munroe-Blum commented that the gap in funds received and the costs of operation had grown so significant that McGill’s MBA program risked falling behind other leading institutions. She added that the hike will allow undergraduate departments to retain the funds that had previously been funnelled into the MBA program.
The decision to hike fees was met with some opposition by Faculty of Law representative Faizel Gulamhussein, who disapproved of the University’s failure to consult the Senate in making the decision.
Concerns were also raised over the potential implications for other faculties. Senator Richard Janda, also of the Faculty of Law, reproached the University for making such a large alteration to one of the principal professional programs at McGill without greater discussion of spillover effects on university-wide academics. Faculty of Law students can participate in a joint Law and MBA degree program.
Swine flu hits course outlines
Senator Darin Barney of the Faculty of Arts took issue with the alerts that have appeared on course outlines this fall, which notify students that courses may be altered in the event of an emergency.
Senator Bernard Robaire, of the Faculty of Medicine, supported the alerts but expressed reservations. “We have been getting a growing list of directives about what to put [before] the course outlines. I don’t have the space [for] my course outline anymore,” said Robaire. “Could we possibly have a recommendation that would provide a web site that students need to abide by these supplemental guidelines?… For us to have to extend the course outline [does not correspond] with what the title says – it’s a course outline.”
Deputy Provost Morton Mendelson responded, stating that the directive was meant to guarantee flexibility in the way courses are administered in the event of student or instructor absenteeism.