News  Senate rejects academic amnesty

Students argue for right to conscientiously object

McGill Senate voted on Wednesday against a motion for academic amnesty for students in times of strikes and lockouts. The student-authored motion was subject to amendments and extensive debate before being defeated 44 to 26, with three abstentions.

The motion was introduced after a period of discussion about the McGill University Non-Academic Certified Association (MUNACA) strike, now entering its eighth week, and discussion about the right of faculty members to hold classes off-campus to avoid crossing picket lines.

Several members of the gallery wore MUNACA pins while Senators questioned the administration on its handling of the situation.

Senators raised concerns about the dissemination of information regarding the strike. Principal Heather Munroe-Blum refuted their claims, saying that campus media coverage and demonstrations in support of MUNACA mean that the issue “has certainly gone beyond having a one-sided view on anything.”

Email updates from the administration were also discussed. Munroe-Blum, who sent a University-wide email on October 18 denouncing MUNACA’s actions during Homecoming events, said that the message was “the only time I’ve spoken out in the context of the strike.” She called the actions of MUNACA members at Homecoming “beyond the pale.”

“I spoke from the heart, and I believe that the Thursday [strike] reports [from Vice-Principal (Administration and Finance) Michael Di Grappa] have been factually based,” Munroe-Blum added.

SSMU VP University Affairs Emily Clare introduced the motion for academic amnesty for students. The motion requested that the “Senate grant the right to Academic Amnesty, as outlined in the provisions below, for all students in the case of a strike or lock-out involving a McGill affiliated organization.” It would allow students to “abstain from participating in academic commitments” for up to three working days, as a means of expressing conscientious objection to a strike or lockout.

The document outlined a number of provisions, including notifying faculty members 72 hours before the date that amnesty would apply. Amnesty would not be applied to assignments worth 35 per cent or more, pre-scheduled mid-terms, final examinations, or mandatory clinicals, field placements, and rehearsals.

Clare explained that the idea was brought up at the first Senate meeting of the year.

“There was a discussion of the implications of a strike on students and different members of the community,” she said. “One of the professors had raised the idea of what would happen if academic amnesty was brought forward by a member of the community.”

Student senators conducted research into the history of academic amnesty motions at McGill and other universities.

“We went and got extensive consultation, we talked to almost all the faculties, at least some representatives of students within the faculties to see how they felt about it,” Clare explained. “Additionally, we went into the history at McGill, how many times the motion has been brought up and the like, how it did, what were the major arguments against it. Carleton also had a motion that they put forward at senate last year… That, too, was shut down.”

The motion faced argument from administrative figures, even after two amendments. Many of the arguments focused on pragmatic aspects of the motion. Dean of Law Daniel Jutras called the proposal “simply unmanageable,” while Dean of Science Martin Grant felt that the policy would lead to “chaos.”

Management Senator, and former Daily Web Editor, Tom Acker rebutted the claim by stressing that the policy would “not add significant strain” to administrative work, and that it had been framed to “make sure that students do not abuse this situation,” while SSMU President Maggie Knight pointed out that reasonable accommodation is already made for religious holidays.

The question of allowing for students’ moral positions was also brought up, with several senators voicing the opinion that students should accept penalties for missing class and academic commitments. Provost Anthony Masi pointed out that similar motions had been voted down in Senate  three times before, and said that students should “live with the consequences” of their actions.

“I should not have to choose between my academic future and moral obligation,” said Arts Senator Matthew Crawford. Knight also pointed out that students on scholarship or other constraints would not have the ability to accept the consequences of missing classes.

A motion to vote by secret ballot was defeated 36 to 34, with two abstentions, before the vote on the motion itself.

Despite defeat, student senators have not abandoned the proposal. “I think some of the senators may be interested on pursuing this on a faculty level,” Clare said.

“This might be something that needs to be brought to the faculty level, and maybe people will be more open to it… if it’s tailored to the needs of a specific community,” she added.

– with files from Juan Camilo Velásquez