Correction appended, Wed, Oct 20
Provost Anthony Masi ordered building directors to tear down posters of the Association of Graduate Students Employed at McGill (AGSEM) from notice boards across campus in late September, The Daily has learned. In response, AGSEM’s parent union has served McGill with a formal legal notice charging that the University violated Quebec’s Labour Code.
The posters in question were part of a drive to add McGill’s course lecturers to AGSEM’s ranks. The campus union recently compiled data that shows McGill’s course lecturers are among the lowest paid in Quebec, although their minimum salaries for three-credit courses were increased by $2,000, to be phased in over two years, as announced on October 6. Course lecturers are currently paid $5,000 per three credit course.
AEGSEM represents McGill’s Teaching Assistants and is seeking to unionize course lecturers, who are without organization.
Stanley Glavac, Space Data Administrator for Campus and Space Planning, sent an email to all building directors September 21, reading: “Please look at the attached PDF file that shows a poster that has recently appeared in several McGill buildings. At the request of the Provost, Prof. T. Masi, this poster must be removed.” The email was also sent to the offices of Deputy Provost (Student Life and Learning) Morton Mendelson and Associate Vice-Principal (University Services) Jim Nicell.
Glavac told The Daily that he was instructed to send the email from someone higher in the administration, though not by Masi. Glavac declinined to identify the source of the directive. He maintained that “lots of posters are removed all the time,” adding that he “didn’t think anything of it at the time.”
Gerald Pollack, Building Director of the Stewart Biology building, said that he was “quite surprised” to see such a request.
“It’s not clear to me what the justification for that request was,” he said. “My attitude is that this is a university, and that there should be free expression of ideas.”
Pollack made clear that there were no AGSEM posters in his building, but if there had been, he would have requested justification from the administration.
Michal Rozworski, AGSEM VP External, said that the directive “is undermining everything from the basic rights of freedom of expression all the way down to the collective agreement that we signed. This is offensive on all levels.”
Lawyers from AGSEM’s parent union, the Confédération des syndicats nationaux (CSN), served McGill with a “formal legal notice that it has violated Article 3 of the Quebec Labour Code” on October 5, according to an AGSEM press release. Article 3 of the Quebec Labour Code states that every employee of an institution has the right to belong to an association of employees of their choice and participate in the “activities and management of such association.”
The next day, Wendy Thomson, director of McGill’s School of Social Work, sent a letter to all course lecturers announcing the $2,000 pay increase. The announcement said that the “University had planned to publicize these increases during the summer of 2010 but a request for union certification was filed in July and consequent to the Quebec Labour Code the University was prevented from announcing substantive changes in working conditions.”
Rozworski said that, despite the pay increase, McGill’s course lecturer salaries remain “far behind other universities in the province, and it still leaves course lecturers without all the other protections that only a collective agreement can guarantee them.”
Posters were said to be disappearing as recently as last week. Derek Nystrom, a professor in the English department, commented on an AGSEM-connected Facebook page that a poster had been removed from the door of his personal office at some point last weekend. Nystrom’s post goes on to say that the removal of the poster from his door “says something about McGill’s commitment (or lack thereof) to free speech if profs are not allowed to put materials on their office door without clearing it with the administration first.”
While a number of administration officials involved were unavailable for comment due to a senior administration meeting on Friday, Lynne Gervais, the Associate Vice-Principal (Human Resources) acknowledged that posters “were taken down” in an email sent to The Daily through the Media Relations department.
The email went on to say “[t]here are rules that apply to what a union can or cannot do during a certification campaign and putting up these posters was a violation of these rules.” The email failed to specify which rules. Gervais also wrote that a slogan beneath AGSEM’s logo on the poster, referring to the union as “McGill’s teaching union,” was “misleading.”
Rozworski said that the Administration’s description of AGSEM’s slogan as misleading was “hurtful.”
“The message that they’re sending is that we’re not part of the teaching community at McGill.”
Rozworski said that the removal of posters has only strengthened organizers’ resolve.
“It’s sad to see something like this from a university that markets itself as a world class educational institution,” he said.
*Correction: In an earlier version of this article, it was written that course lecturers current salaries are $4,000 per course. They are in fact 5,000. The Daily regrets the error. *