Commentary  Merit matters

Why one student feels he can’t support MUNACA’s cause

I grew up in a union household outside of Detroit, Michigan. Much of my family worked for Ford and General Motors. In general, I support unions because they are the primary organizations protect workers’ rights – especially against predatory corporations. But I’ve also seen how unions can force organizations into policies that, in the long run, only serve to harm themselves. This is why I cannot support MUNUCA during their strike.

As part of their list of demands, MUNACA states that they want all hiring to be seniority-based (given minimum qualifications) rather than merit-based. This demand is both ridiculous and insulting. The university is supposed to be a bastion of meritocracy. Admittance as a student is based on merit. Scholarships and fellowships are merit-based (as well as need-based). Grades and class rank are based on merit. Hiring of faculty and promotion to tenure and full professorships are merit-based. Even for tenured faculty, research funding is not automatic. Instead, it is highly competitive based on the merit of the research and the capacity of the faculty and institution to carry it out.

A meritocracy seeks to find and reward the most qualified and productive people. To move away from this ideal in an institution only leads to poorer quality of work and to service that drags down other parts of it. Furthermore, hiring based on seniority rather than qualifications prevents the infusion of external personnel with fresh ideas and new approaches. McGill is not about doing the bare minimum. McGill – and universities in general – are about innovation, creation, and doing our best. Is it so much to ask that all students, staff, and faculty be held to this standard?

Benjamin Heumann is a Postdoctoral fellow in the Department of Geography. You can reach him at