On January 20, Senate passed a motion strengthening a pre-existing ban on the use of any recording devices in its meetings. The regulations are intended to foster a more cordial environment and to prevent reporting on Senate while the meeting is still in progress. Reporting after adjournment is permitted, but things like Twitter and liveblogging are now prohibited.
These clarified regulations heap fresh problems onto the already-flawed measures in place for recording Senate. Sessions are already far from transparent. Minutes from the meetings contain no verbatim quotations and are not released to the public until they are approved at a subsequent Senate session – weeks can pass before minutes are made public. These delays, coupled with the new regulations, effectively mean that media are permitted to report on Senate, so long as they’re prepared to do so without detailed documentation of proceedings, recordings of speakers’ statements, and photographs.
As McGill’s second highest governing body, Senate has recently discussed the drastic hikes to MBA tuition, military research on campus, and the University’s sexual harassment policy. Students and staff are entitled to be up-to-date and informed on these issues. If tuition is on the verge of skyrocketing or staff benefits are about to be slashed, this is not the sort of information that should be recorded in vague minutes and released weeks after crucial decisions are made.
We can only combat apathy by informing students of exactly what direction their University is heading in, and doing so in a way that is comprehensive and up-to-the-minute. Taking advantage of new media could help combat the stubborn problem of apathy by motivating students to get involved in the way their University is run. People cannot engage with and challenge an opaque governing body. Unfortunately, McGill seems more interested in reduced transparency than increased engagement and accountability: the Board of Governors, McGill’s highest governing body, already has similar measures in place.
And while some on Senate maintain that an unrecorded meeting is a more relaxed one, this does not trump administrators’ responsibility to the public discourse: if someone is qualified enough to occupy such a position of power, the mere presence of a voice recorder should not prevent them from speaking honestly and candidly.
This legislation seems to apply to people reporting from within the Senate chamber, and not to reporters writings proceedings down and then leaving the room. So until Senate passes new rules declaring that pens and paper qualify as recording devices, The Daily intends to use real-time coverage to subvert this legislation. We hope you’ll do the same.
The next Senate meeting will be at 2:30 p.m. on February 10 in Leacock 232.