Commentary | Hyde park: A school with no student input

How the administration controls all decisions

I couldn’t participate in the November 10 demonstration, because, unfortunately, I had to work my minimum wage job.  Hearing about it afterwards, it will no doubt be remembered for many years afterwards that McGill let riot police, who pepper sprayed and, by some accounts, beat protesters, on campus.

Though I couldn’t see it for myself, this is probably the climax of McGill’s primary tactic for dealing with students (at least over the past five years): stonewall students until they give in. This has happened in a variety of shapes and forms – from the travel ban for research to moving opt-outs online. It’s been accompanied by a similar practice of releasing major decisions over summer vacation or winter break, which is nothing short of a hostile gesture as administrators are well aware active students are either too busy or out of town.

As a former Daily editor, I can think of perhaps only a few instances of the University relenting to student pressure: one of them being firing Former Chancellor Dick Pound for his inappropriate comments about First Nations. More recent news show that instances like these are merely anomalies. They did not relent on the use of the McGill name, international tuition deregulation, the Architecture Café, cancellation of Echoes of the Holocaust, military research on campus, and, currently, on the issue of MUNACA.

While the administration has insidiously attempted to homogenize and sterilize student life, I have to echo McGill’s History Department and ask: who are they, those people whom we pay six figure salaries to, to run our institution and why do they have the monopoly on power? Sure McGill students have a union (SSMU), but, during major decisions, it feels like its relation to the administration tends to reflect that of 19th century labourer and capitalist, not the stronger 20th century incarnation of organized labour.

It’s not the fault – per se – of student leaders, but more often a reflection of the fact they have only one vote on the Board of Governors and are outnumbered on senate. (I would like to note that, given the “moral fibre” of some past SSMU presidents, I could anticipate a BoG member asking them “what they were doing after graduation,” to get them to cooperate much the way Congressmen are bought off by lobbyists).

The real problem on campus lies in the fact that decision-making is concentrated in a body divorced from the realities of academic and student life. We have no say in who runs McGill from the top – how the principle, provosts, academic dean, or any of the other administrative top dogs are chosen – and I imagine that most faculty are equally powerless. There is a very sharp divide on campus between the people with power, and those who don’t – but it’s one that is directly disproportional to who has a stake in what happens on campus.

Because of this, any sort of democratic decision making is, at best, nominal. Sure, they’ll let students pick a trash compactor, create an Office of Sustainability, and run other non-confrontational projects (which are helpful in their own way), but we don’t have any power where it really counts – what kind of research happens on campus or how much tuition we pay.

And that’s why McGill can sanction riot cops to beat their students, and, I assure you, nothing is going to happen. Because ultimately, the administrators always get their way – since, after all, you have finals to worry about.

Erin Hale is a U4 Philosophy student and a former News Editor for The Daily. She can be reached at erin.hale2@gmail.com


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