Common themes of mistrust and anger over the McGill administration’s lack of transparency and student consultation in decision-making processes and committees surfaced at the open forum hosted by the Student Consultation and Communication Work Group in the McConnell Engineering building last Friday.
The lack of student consultation on controversial issues such as the closure of the Architecture Café was likely one of the main motivations for the Work Group. It was created by Deputy Provost Student Life and Learning Morton Mendelson – who was conspicuously absent from the meeting – with a mandate “to broadly consider, and make recommendations about, the methods used to consult and communicate with students.”
Engineering Senator Andrew Doyle commented on the nature of existing consultation committees.
“Committees deal much more with the how than the what. It is very difficult for a student representative to actually add an agenda item to a committee, and I think part of the frustration of students is that we’re always talking about what the administration wants to talk about, and not what we want to talk about.”
The open forum was organized to allow students to contribute ideas and suggestions to the committee, which will submit its recommendations to Mendelson in February. The atmosphere of the forum remained largely respectful and constructive, though frustration was palpable over what one student referred to as the “kids vs. grownups attitude” with which the administration deals with students in regards to decision making processes.
Students repeatedly stressed the difference between consultation and being involved in consensus building. Forum moderator Finn Upham – a graduate student and committee member – said the difference came to whether “students want to be customers or community members in terms of decision making.”
Many students referred to the current decision-making process as a system that weighted the power away from students in a way unacceptable for a university.
“The University and administration takes pride in the fact that we have some of the smartest students from across the country at this university. We are very capable of taking matters seriously and contributing to the process,” said Arts Senator Tyler Lawson.
The audience was quick to accede that it was clear that students and administration would not always agree. However, many saw this as irrelevant to the fundamental need to be consulted and have clear access to information about campus issues.
In his closing remarks, the chair of the Committee, Physics professor Paul Wiseman, said that he was “incredibly impressed in terms of the constructive atmosphere.”
Joshua Abaki, SSMU VP University Affairs, and the student representative for the committee, thought the forum was effective.
“I felt that this meeting was very, very helpful. We got a lot of really, really good comments, especially on where things have gone wrong. I am looking forward to the next meeting, and looking at how we can integrate the solutions that were suggested,” said Abaki.