Correction appended Nov. 9
The Arts Undergraduate Society’s (AUS) General Assembly (GA) voted on Tuesday in favour of a one-day student strike mandate for its over 7,500 members, in support of the November 10 demonstration against tuition hikes.
According to the Association pour une solidarité syndicale étudiante (ASSÉ), now over 200,000 students have declared a one day student strike for November 10, including almost 18,000 Concordia Arts and Science undergraduates at their own GA last week.
The resolution to strike, moved by five students, mandates AUS to declare a one-day strike, as well as to petition Arts faculty members to cancel classes this Thursday. After questions from students regarding the implications of a student strike, the motion passed with an overwhelming majority. A committee was formed at the end of the GA to plan communicating the results of the vote and promoting the strike to students and faculty members.
After the GA, SSMU VP External Joël Pedneault said that he felt there was a “tremendous feeling in the room” for the strike vote, and that the November 10 day of action would be “beyond everyone’s expectations as to how many people would be on strike.”
According to Pedneault, this marked the first time there has been a student strike at McGill since 2005, which was in protest of budget cuts to the provincial government’s student bursary program.
The GA exceeded its 150-member quorum almost half an hour after the assembly opened. Operating under relaxed Robert’s Rules, the GA began with a failure to approve a motion to commission a portrait of Karl Marx for the Arts Lounge.
The first motion on the agenda, moved by Arts Senator Matthew Crawford and U1 student Molly Swain, mandated the AUS to lobby for academic amnesty. The motion stated that academic amnesty “includes the right to abstain from participating in academic commitments for reasons of conscientious objection and/or cases of ethical or moral conflict without penalty” during a strike or lock-out at the University, and was nearly an exact replica of the motion for academic amnesty presented to McGill Senate last month. Despite its failure at Senate, the motion passed among Arts students.
A motion for the AUS to support a ‘yes’ vote in the QPIRG existence referendum sparked debate before it passed. Voices against the motion centred on the question’s proposal that the QPIRG opt-out system revert back to its previous method, which requires students to opt-out in person rather than online through McGill’s Minerva system.
Arts Representative to SSMU Isabelle Bi was one of three students who spoke against the motion.
“It is my job to represent you guys and I find that, with a question like this that asks students that we mandate or we endorse a ‘yes,’ is telling to our 7,000 students that we favour one side; we’ve now marginalized a complete other voice on campus who may not agree,” Bi said.
It was not until a student in the audience prompted AUS Speaker Ben Lerer to intervene that Bi was forbidden to assist in counting votes on the motion. During motions later in the agenda, several AUS executives questioned movers and voiced discontent with the contents of motions, but proceeded to assist in counting student votes.
Sheehan Moore, former Daily Design and Production editor, moved a question for AUS to support the striking McGill University Non-Academic Certified Association (MUNACA).
AUS President Jade Calver questioned Moore about whether he was aware of the motion that had failed at AUS Council in September, and of surveys that have been distributed to Arts students on the question.
Moore responded that he was aware of Council’s vote, and that many of the ‘no’ votes had been a result of claims of being uninformed about the details of the strike. “You’re never going to have the support of everyone, but the point of an association like AUS is not to appease people, but to take action,” he said.
AUS VP Academic Yusra Khan asked about a clause that read, “AUS Executive be mandated to encourage its members to support the strike and assist those students who wish to actively advocate for MUNACA.” Khan stated that it “doesn’t really reflect our opinions,” referring to herself and the rest of the Executive. She attempted an unfriendly amendment – an amendment where the mover of the motion, in this case Moore, disagrees with the amendment – to omit the mandate explicit to the Executive.
Moore explained that her comments related back to Bi’s earlier concerns. “It’s a matter of how you think the democratic process should carry out: whether or not you should be representing us, or whether by electing you, we are just endorsing everything you say,” Moore said.
Lerer refused to allow Khan’s unfriendly amendment once it had been drafted, stating that it was submitted after a vote to move the question was approved. Argument then broke out among students as to the legality of such a ruling.
After the GA, Khan addressed her opinion on the procedure. “I do feel like the atmosphere of debate in this room wasn’t fostered at all – I think that specifically the Chair’s decisions to haphazardly employ whatever rules or procedures he felt comfortable with really hindered the debate that could have taken place,” she said.
“I do feel that specifically my motion for an unfriendly amendment…was completely overlooked, and that is, in my opinion, just not acceptable. In a way, I feel like it calls into question the legitimacy of the resolution, because there was no consistency in the way that that was determined,” Khan added.
The motion to support MUNACA passed with about twenty students opposed. Approximately 229 students were present for the vote.
A motion to support the African Studies program – which had its introductory class, AFRI 200: Introduction to African Studies, cut this year – was amended to add that AUS lobby the McGill administration for a program-specific professor, as well as for general support to the program.
The GA lost quorum after the November 10 strike motion passed. Three remaining motions were discussed as a consultative forum.
A motion regarding student consultation on the reappointment of Deputy Provost (Student Life and Learning) Morton Mendelson was discussed, as was a motion for AUS to oppose and educate students on all tuition hikes, and a motion regarding the brewing of coffee at SNAX.
After adjournment of the assembly, Calver spoke to The Daily.
“I think it was a little disappointing that not everything was debated, especially because this GA was student-initiated because there were issues that students wanted to discuss and pass resolutions on. I think that it was a little contradictory that there wasn’t actually debate on some issues,” she said.
Calver said that it is “hard to say” whether GAs will be institutionalized in the AUS, but that she was “ecstatic” with student turnout. She added that Robert’s Rules can be a hindrance to student involvement, which would be a consideration in moving forward with the question of AUS GAs and their accessibility to Arts students.
— with files from Erin Hudson
An earlier version of this article incorrectly stated that a motion on academic amnesty passed with ninety votes for and eighty against. In fact, these numbers were the results of a vote on a motion regarding a portrait of Karl Marx for the Arts lounge, which failed with ninety votes against and eighty votes in favour.