The McGill Senate held its first meeting of the year last Thursday, while nearly thirty students held a demonstration in support of the McGill University Non-Academic Certified Association (MUNACA) outside the room. The students marched from the Roddick Gates to the Leacock Building, where the meeting was held.
Before the march to Leacock, Claire Stewart-Kanigan, U1 Political Science, explained her attendance at the event.
“This is an institution for the students,” Stewart-Kanigan said. “If the students themselves don’t approve of the administration then I think it sends a clear message to the administration that something needs to be done.”
Security initially blocked entry to the group as they attempted to enter the building, after which students found an alternate entrance. Once inside, guards allowed few spectators to enter the room, and told the majority of protesters that they would not be let in due to their potential disruption of the meeting.
“There was an illegal demonstration inside the Leacock Building with participants intent on disrupting the Senate meeting,” Michael Di Grappa, VP (Administration and Finance), stated in an email to The Daily. “The participants refused to exit the building or to stop their demonstration. There were not sufficient guarantees that, if allowed into the meeting, the participants would respect the right of Senators to conduct their meeting with dignity and decorum.”
Di Grappa refused to address the fact that security filmed the demonstration, explaining that the administration “won’t discuss security procedures.” Security at the scene told students that they were being filmed because they were protesting inside.
Students sat outside of the meeting for an hour and half, while various participants, including members of the McGill Faculty Labour Action Group, spoke to the group.
Despite the fact that singing and drumming was clearly audible from within the room, Principal Heather Munroe-Blum, who chaired the meeting, never acknowledged the protesters.
Munroe-Blum did address the issue of the strike, giving a brief background of each side’s demands and calling the strike an “unfortunate development, one that I know we all wish to resolve as quickly as possible.”
“We are all proud of all members of our employee groups,” she added.
Munroe-Blum then spoke about the state of McGill’s self-funded MBA program, and detailed the criteria used for national and international university rankings, and how McGill’s rankings compare to other Canadian schools.
Professor Darin Barney, an associate professor in the Art History & Communication Studies department and Canada Research Chair in Technology and Citizenship, rose to give a statement about the impact of the strike on campus. Barney said he wanted to “fill in the gaps” in the administrations assessment of the strike’s impacts. Barney had previously authored a letter of solidarity with MUNACA, which was sent to Munroe-Blum and Provost Anthony Masi, with no response from the administration. The letter is also posted on the MUNACA website.
Barney’s statement detailed responses that he has received from MUNACA workers, fellow professors, and students about how the strike has affected them.
“A 20-year employee of the University told me that when her several managers cross the picket line, they refuse to acknowledge or even look at her,” he said.
Barney explained that he has walked with MUNACA workers on picket lines, and that “it’s the first time [some MUNACA workers] have ever felt that professors even know they exist, let alone what happens to them,” he said.
Law professor Richard Janda raised a question about the University’s policy to not allow professors to teach off-campus. In an email to all staff and students last Thursday, Di Grappa wrote that, “A professor’s right to not cross the picket line does not confer the right to move classes off campus.”
Janda said the email “raises great concern.” He asked how Senate could “move away from this rather polarizing moment in the life of the community,” and give professors who wish to show solidarity with striking workers the ability to do so.
Barney also spoke about student concerns about crossing picket lines to attend class, and, later, asked whether provisions are made for students who may miss classes in their refusal to cross.
Deputy Provost (Student Life and Learning) Morton Mendelson addressed the concern, explaining that students are responsible for their academic assignments and class attendance, and that “a strike is not a normally acceptable excuse.”
When asked whether it would be possible to establish a policy of academic amnesty to deal with situations like these, Mendelson said that it is “not for [him] to say.”
The issue of managers shouldering extra work to make up for MUNACA workers was raised, as John Galaty, an associate professor in the Department of Anthropology and Director of the Centre for Society, Technology and Development, questioned whether the “extraordinary efforts” of staff are sustainable.
Munroe-Blum ended the discussion by saying that it is “not going to be productive to go into a detailed exchange on these comments [at Senate].”
Over the course of the discussion, multiple Senators expressed gratification that the administration had admitted that the University is not business as usual.
SSMU VP University Affairs Emily Yee Clare, a student Senator, brought forth a question regarding the effects of the labour dispute on student services, and asked what the administration is doing to consider the needs of students in their decision-making process.
The question asked how students can achieve full potential “in light of critically reduced access to vital services.”
Mendelson disagreed with the terminology, telling Senate that, “The vast majority of services, at least for now, have not been critically reduced.”
“Frontline student services have been a priority,” he added, and cited the fact that McLennan Library is open 24 hours daily as proof.
Following discussion of the MUNACA strike, Galaty asked a question about the implication of University budget cuts to teaching assistants (TAs).
Masi explained that the central administration does not control how many TA-ships each faculty has, as the line item in the budget is labeled as “teaching support,” which faculties can spend on anything that falls under that category, including classroom materials.
When pressed further about negotiations on the TA’s collective agreement, Masi said that the administration cannot comment on negotiations due to legal restraints.
Masi, referring back to the discussion about MUNACA negotiations, added, “I have many things I would like to say to Professor Barney, and will do so in private.”
– with files from Henry Gass