Hey you! Pay attention

Your school is being taken over

Heather Munroe-Blum, in an email to the McGill community this week, finally confirmed what we all know to be true about her: she’s determined to circumvent not only the wishes of the students, but provincial education policy as well, in pursuit of her own misguided and selfish aims.

The email is ostensibly a response to Bill 100, the budget bill passed in June of this year by Quebec’s National Assembly, which is meant to balance the province’s budget by 2013-14.

If Munroe-Blum were attempting to redefine the bill’s prescriptions (namely, by choosing not to cut administrative salaries and reduce expenses) to protect, say, academic support staff or the unionized non-academic staff on campus, I would understand. In fact, I would even find it laudable that the admin would finally be taking a stand for the employees on campus who maintain the huge support network at McGill. This is not even remotely the case.

I’ve known since my first town hall with Munroe-Blum that McGill is a research-oriented university that prioritizes the employment of high-talent and high-profile (and highly-paid) faculty over the success and experience of undergraduate students – many of whom go through quite a bit of financial stress to be here. Accordingly, it should not be a surprise that the single aspect of the bill the administration does support is tuition increases in 2012. A thirty-cent commitment to financial aid for every additional tuition dollar brought back to McGill is not a catch-all solution to the problems a constantly-growing tuition bill is going to create, however. International students in the Arts faculty – the largest – have already seen a three to five per cent tuition increase in 2010-11, and may see up to five per cent more after 2011. My tuition as an Arts student was upward of $8,700 this term alone – imagine the situation next fall, when prospective high-talent, academically diverse undergraduates are forced to make the choice to forgo McGill because of the rising cost of attendance.

With rhetoric that’s hard to disagree with at first, she writes, “We are convinced that across-the-board governmental measures that are intended to cover a large range of publicly funded institutions with a one-size-fits-all approach will undermine our mission, our quality, [and] our reputation.” The alternative policies she seeks would instead be developed under the auspices of “a performance-driven model of funding.” The key words here are “performance-driven,” meaning that we get more money as an institution if we do better than others. Follow this to its logical conclusion and you find the institutionalization of the administration’s favourite thing: prestige is paramount to all else. Ask yourself where that will lead us – given current trends – and it’s easy to see why this is problematic.

The implications of this attitude, one we have become all too familiar with this year, should be, and are, very concerning. McGill has a richly diverse and incredibly academically successful student community; neither of these things, however, are administration priorities, and their policies both make this clear and show that in the future, McGill will not be a place for activism and progressive education policy, but rigid, neoliberal, conservative, and exclusive “academia.”

We are systematically being closed out of a structure that depends on our support for its very existence. For whatever reason, most of the student body seems to find this completely acceptable. This is a grave misjudgement on all of our parts, and one we would do well to correct.

Munroe-Blum’s email concludes by noting that suggestions and feedback are welcome. I strongly encourage you to write to her, to copy her friends in the administration while you’re at it, and to give her what she asked for: an inbox full of emails and a campus full of students who are no longer willing to put up with this blatant disregard for the wishes of the very people she and the admin work for.

Courtney Graham is a U3 Political Science and International Development Studies (Joint Honours) student and The Daily’s copy editor. You can reach her at courtney.graham@mail.mcgill.ca.