More than one hundred students rallied outside Leacock at 2 p.m. yesterday with signs bearing slogans such as “Transparency” and “Time to Listen” in efforts to ensure increased student consultation in key decisions on campus. The rally was the culmination of a three-day boycott of McGill Food Services led by a new campus organization, Mobilization McGill, and was scheduled to coincide with Senate’s monthly meeting.
The boycott began at 11:30 a.m. on Monday, featuring a lunchtime campaign of flyers, electronic petitions, by-donation sandwich wraps, and free Midnight lunches served to students outside Redpath and McConnell Engineering, which house two of the largest cafeterias on campus.
“We want[ed] to…get people involved, let them know what the issues are,” said Arts senator Tyler Lawson. “And hopefully [we’ll] have as successful a rally as last time with…a better response from the administration on the end of the senate…meeting.”
“Ideally we’d like to get complete consultation institutionalized with all matters of student life on campus,” Lawson continued.
Senate created a Working Group on Student Consultation yesterday, which will answer to Deputy Provost (Student Life and Learning) Morton Mendelson (See below). Last week, the Senate Steering Committee redirected the question of the reopening of the Architecture Café to the Board of Governors (BoG), deeming that it was out of Senate’s purview.
Nicholas van Beek, U4 History student and Mobilization McGill, member, expressed that the organization aims to address grievances beyond the Arch Café.
“There are a lot of different issues on campus that people are generally dissatisfied with, like food service, tuition hikes, [and a] general lack of transparency,” he said.
Mobilization McGill, distributed white pieces of cloth to increase the visibility of the boycott movement and to promote solidarity. They were white, Van Beek explained, so that students could write whatever they wanted on them.
Nick, a U4 electrical engineering student, explained why he stopped by the rally.
“I like offering alternatives on campus and I think that a campus should be run with students’ interests at heart and I think [the closure of the Architecture Café] is something that, evidentially, students do think is important,” he stated.
“If nothing else it shows that students aren’t nearly as apathetic as we make them out to be at times. I think it’s a great show … it will be difficult to convince the administration of something, but it’s worth the effort,” he concluded.
Kyle McLaughlin and a handful of other members of Free Education Montreal – a Concordia group created within the last two years – attended the Wednesday rally.
“We saw what was happening at McGill, and really an attack against any group of students, no matter what their campus, is an attack against all students. … We should help each other out. So that’s what we at Free Education Montreal are doing – just helping our neighbour campus,” said McLaughlin before he addressed the crowd of students.
McGill Philosophy professor Calvin Normore, a fan of the Architecture Café, was a part of the crowd.
“I think it’s important because there is an increasing centralization of power in the University. McGill has always been a fairly centralized University but there’s an increasing centralization of power and it leads to things like this,” Normore said.
“[The rally is] not enormous, which indicates to me that faculty are not the only ones not yet involved, but it’s certainly lively and there’s a lot of spirit,” Normore added.
Lawson said he was energized by student enthusiasm. “It’s just so great when everything that we do is validated by actual students’ support. What we do doesn’t mean anything if students don’t know what is going on in those meetings,” he told The Daily on his way to Senate.
Students were out en masse to receive their lunch from Midnight Kitchen all three days of the boycott. Alex Briggs, a Midnight Kitchen serving coordinator, was impressed by student turnout at the Monday serving session held outside of Redpath.
“This line, even by MK standards, is long,” he said. Midnight Kitchen collaborated closely with Mobilization McGill, on the boycott, preparing all the food served throughout the three-day event.
McGill Security guards were present Monday and Tuesday as students distributed flyers outside of McConnell Engineering. EUS granted MM permission to use tables outside of McConnell on Monday, although security guards told students that they needed a permit in order to table.
Students referred the guards to the SSMU-distributed Student Rights handbook. Part IV, article 26 of the handbook states that “every group of students has a right to organize and to promote the interests of its members, provided that the purposes of such group are lawful.”
The guards maintained, however, that the space was “private property” and that students required permission to be there. Mobilization McGill, reorganized and removed the tables later that day, placing signs, flyers and wraps on nearby stone benches instead.
“I think it’s a little odd that they’ve brought six security guards. … It’s a bit of an inappropriate presence,” said Sarah, an Anthropology student who witnessed the incident.
Mobilization McGill, member Christian Scott saw the security presence as a reaffirmation of the point of the boycott.
“We’ll get kicked out but [that is] also a symbol…we need to make it obvious that students cannot do anything spontaneously here,” he said. “Everything needs to go through by McGill regulations, by McGill censorship.”
On Tuesday, Mobilization McGill, moved to the recently reconstructed James Square, near the Milton Gates. About thirty minutes after the group arrived, McGill Security requested that the group move signs and flyers that were to be distributed off campus property. Sandwiches, however, could still be handed out.
“[M]any of our conflicts are stemming over really unclear rules at McGill with what is allowed in terms of protests and demonstrations…what counts as an event and what counts as a protest,” said Joesph Giardini, a member of Mobilization McGill who communicated with security guards Monday and Tuesday.
Director of Media Relations Doug Sweet appeared in James Square Tuesday to question McGill Security as to why they had such a large presence. Melanie Ouellette, McGill Security Operations Administrator, was onsite and explained that two of the security guards present were trainees.
“It’s not like the storm troopers are being brought in to close down Midnight Kitchen,” Sweet said as he left James Square.
A new working group on student consultation, formed in response to the Arch Café closure, will report to Deputy Provost (Student Life and Learning) Morton Mendelson. The group was initiated after confidential consultation between Mendelson and SSMU President Zach Newburgh and will set its own agenda. Newburgh described it as a move toward “institutionalizing student consultation.” It will be composed of the following representatives from both the administration and student groups:
Josh Abaki is the VP External of SSMU. He has been a strong supporter of student activism surrounding the closure of Arch Café and boycott of McGill Food and Dining Services.
Alexandra Bishop is the President of PGSS, and sits on McGill’s Senate and Board of Governors.
Jane Everett is the University’s Dean of Students, appointed in 2007. A professor of French language and literature, she is responsible for overseeing student life and academic affairs. She works directly under Deputy Provost (Student Life and Learning) Morton Mendelson.
Jana Luker is the executive director of the University’s Services of Services, which encompasses student aid, counselling, and physical and mental health services for undergrad and graduate students. She has worked at McGill since fall 2007.
Zach Newburgh is the President of SSMU and sits on McGill’s Senate and Board of Governors. He brought a motion to September’s Senate session regarding Arch Café that was struck down by the Chair as out of order.
Michael Porritt is the director of Residences at McGill, responsible for overseeing housing for first-year and some upper-year students.
Finn Upham is a Music Graduate Student Society rep to PGSS and former VP External (2006-2007) of SSMU.
Paul Wiseman is an associate professor in the departments of Chemistry and Physics. The recipient of two McGill teaching awards in 2007, Wiseman has been selected to chair the new working group.