Commentary | Dear Munroe-Blum

Letters to the principal

Dear Principal Munroe-Blum,

I’m writing about a few things, but mostly regarding the unacceptable way that you and your fellow administrators have chosen to address McGill students, faculty, and workers over the last two months.

The majority of what I have to say has already been said over and over again, but I think it bears repeating (and repeating, and repeating). Considering that just over a week ago The McGill Tribune  ran an editorial denouncing MUNACA’s tactics with language taken almost verbatim from one of your emails, it’s clear that the words the administration chooses matter.

I think the instinct among the Tribune’s editorial staff, and likely among most of the community, is to trust the emails we get from you and other administrators. Past messages have seemed innocuous enough – reminders that it’s “Earth Hour at McGill,” or annoying but harmless propaganda about McGill’s international ranking. And the administration’s intention in September to keep us all up-to-date on negotiations seemed like a good idea at the time. But right away, you turned a vehicle for conveying information to the entire McGill community into a weapon against MUNACA workers.

One of the first emails, sent on September 8, cautioned us to call security if picketers made us “feel threatened or unsafe.” This, it turned out, was the beginning of an onslaught of rhetoric carefully designed to make us fear the library assistants and administrative staff dancing with tambourines outside the Milton Gates. That same email, and almost all that followed, have consistently misrepresented MUNACA’s actions and positions. Among the most notable and frequently distorted are the union’s demands regarding compensation increases.

The highpoint of these messages was the email you sent on October 18, with the subject line “We are All McGill.” In it, you claim that at a Homecoming event, MUNACA picketers vandalized a building, harassed elderly guests, and threw things at administrators. The next day, in an interview with CKUT, MUNACA’s VP Finance David Kalant specifically refuted each of these accusations. I wasn’t at the demonstration, and neither were most of the students, but as my mother has said so many times to me and my sister: obviously one of you is lying to me.

I’ll take MUNACA’s word, and it isn’t because I like them better, or because I work for another campus union: it’s because you’ve lost any credibility on the issue. Since the beginning of the strike, your administration has on many occasions distorted the truth or outright lied to us. You have failed to protect protesting students from harassment by security, going so far as to authorize McGill security’s filming of peaceful student demonstrations. And you have personally, Principal Munroe-Blum, reacted with astounding unprofessionalism to the concerns of faculty members, dismissing their comments at Senate and ignoring their mobilization through letters and organizations like the McGill Faculty Labour Action Group (MFLAG). Additionally, the administration has filed multiple injunctions crippling the ability of MUNACA to exercise free speech, and then claimed to be “astonished” when the union was forced to move to other sites like the hospital construction at Glen Yards. (Most repugnantly, Michael Di Grappa wrote that it was McGill who was astonished, as if his feigned shock at the peaceful actions of 1,700 scorned and desperate workers is shared by all of us.)

When you rob McGill workers of their picketing rights, intimidate McGill students, ignore McGill faculty, and send out emails dripping with sarcasm and untruths, this ceases to be a question of wage increases or pensions. As letters in this paper and elsewhere have demonstrated, you have lost the support even of those who would otherwise disagree with MUNACA’s position.

You have turned our university into a place of fear, hostility, and disrespect. You write of the “longstanding McGill tradition of respectful and civil discourse,” yet professors are afraid to speak out for fear of repercussions. You say this is a place “where people are free to speak, to disagree and voice their views without harassment, intimidation, and insult,” but you simultaneously take legal action against workers and authorize the harassment and intimidation of students.

The effect this has had on all of us is indelible, but it’s not too late to salvage something. I urge you to issue an apology for your administration’s treatment of McGill workers, students, and faculty; to lift all injunctions and allow workers to return to their picket lines at McGill; to allow MUNACA an equal platform from which to address the McGill community; to encourage free and open discussion among the community; and to proceed in good faith at the bargaining table towards a fair agreement.

Sincerely,

Sheehan Moore

To Arts undergrads: come to the Arts Undergraduate Society on Tuesday at 5 p.m. in the SSMU building cafeteria and vote on a motion to support the MUNACA workers and on a one-day strike opposing tuition cuts.

To all students: This isn’t an isolated issue – silence now gives the university permission to step on us in the future. Speak out, and ask your parents to speak out. Email heather.munroe.blum@mcgill.ca and michael.digrappa@mcgill.ca, even if it’s just a sentence or two. Write to campus and local newspapers. Attend rallies. Support picketers when you see them. Encourage your faculty organizations and SSMU to be vocal and take action.

Sheehan Moore is a U2 Arts student. He is VP Internal of the Anthropology Students’ Association, Chair of the Board of Representatives of the Association of McGill University Support Employees (AMUSE), a member of AMUSE’s bargaining team, a former Design and Production editor at The Daily, and a director of The Daily Publication Society. You can reach him at sheehan.moore@mail.mcgill.ca.

 

Dear Principal Munroe-Blum,

I was amazed, in your last email to all McGill students and staff, to read the statement “we are all part of the same community.” It’s not that this claim is completely false – it’s true that McGill has a lively community.

Campus groups like QPIRG, the UGE, CKUT, and various theatre companies give students spaces to make friends, develop skills, and carve out a niche on campus. Professors, and the equally important TAs and course lecturers, help students academically and personally. Advisors help students to navigate through the potentially murky waters of the McGill bureaucracy. And service workers, administrative staff, and other employees interact with students every day, performing necessary tasks and allowing students to get an exemplary education at McGill (or, at least, they did until the start of the strike).

It seems, though, that you and your administration have worked actively, since September 1, to undermine this community. Since I came to McGill in 2009, you have been removed from most facets of campus life, rarely talking to or interacting with most students. But, your isolation from those that make up the McGill community has recently become even more apparent.

Since the start of the MUNACA strike, on September 1, you have made it painfully clear that you have little regard for MUNACA workers, or for any others that make up the McGill community.

The administration has treated the strikers shamefully – creating what MUNACA has called a “No Free Speech Zone” by requesting injunctions barring them from picketing on campus, and severely limiting their ability to picket in areas near campus, at McGill off-campus events, at the workplaces of members of McGill’s Board of Governors, and at administrators homes.

Similarly, TAs have not been treated fairly in AGSEM negotiations with the administration. The union has been in negotiations with the admin since May, but, this October, the administration rejected most of their demands. Although the demands are reasonable –they are seeking only a 3 per cent wage increase, an increase in TA hours (which would be in line with the growing number of students), and the availability of paid training – McGill seems unwilling to consider them.

Student, too, are being ignored by the administration. Despite an official SSMU policy against tuition hikes, and growing student mobilization at McGill (particularly by the Mob Squad), around the issue, the administration supported the provinces recent tuition increases of $325 a year, for five years. They have said that fees should be set at the national average (significantly above the average in Quebec.)

Clearly, you don’t see these workers, instructors, and students as “community” members worth listening to. But we’re speaking up and making you listen. MUNACA continues to picket around campus, AGSEM voted on October 19 to authorize pressure tactics against the administration, SSMU is planning on sending students to a tuition rally on November 10, and the AUS is even taking a strike vote this upcoming Tuesday. The McGill community is strong, rapidly uniting, and ready to make their voice heard.

Sincerely,

Joan Moses

Joan Moses is a U3 Political Science and Literature Student and the Coordinating Editor of The Daily, but the opinions expressed here are her own. You can reach her at joan.moses@mail.mcgill.ca.

 

Dear Principal Munroe-Blum,

I cannot, in my good conscience, walk past the striking MUNACA workers to receive a degree that hundreds of them have parts in. It is the hard-working librarians who help me find the resources I need for my research. It is the kind-hearted departmental secretaries who do all the paper works for my study. It is the lab technicians who fix the equipment I use for my experiments. It is all of the MUNACA workers who keep this university running. Thus, it is their degree as much as it is mine, and when they are forced to take strike action to struggle for a better working condition, I am forced to take their side.

Until Principal Heather Munroe-Blum and her high-ranking associates resolve this labour dispute in a respectful manner and fulfill the just demands of the MUNACA workers, instead of spewing anti-union propaganda through their public relation arms and engaging in ‘legal’ maneuvers through their highly-paid lawyers, I cannot stand on the convocation stage this November. To do so is to betray my sense of justice and whatever values that make one an upright member of this community.

In making this decision, I am reminded of the words of a great Russian writer, Victor Serge – words that I would like to share with every one of you:

“What do you want to be? Lawyers, to invoke the law of the rich, which is unjust by definition? Doctors, to tend the rich, and prescribe good food, good air, and rest to the consumptives of the slums? Architects, to house the landlords in comfort? Look around you and examine your conscience. Do you not understand that your duty is quite different: to ally yourself with the exploited?”

Fellow graduates, it is time for you to choose where you stand: up on the graduation stage with Heather Munroe-Blum or on the street with hundreds of MUNACA workers who have made your study possible.

I call on other graduating students to join me in this solidarity action to show to the McGill administration that we find their anti-union actions contemptible. I call on my fellow students to walk the picket line during the convocation days and receive a lesson that you won’t be able to get from the comfortable seats of your classes: life is full of injustice and it matters where you stand.

Sincerely,

Hariyanto Darmawan
 
Hariyanto Darmawan is a graduating student from the Department of Chemical Engineering.

Dear Principal Munroe-Blum,

I took particular offense when you wrote your “We are all McGill” email a few weeks ago. It is quite convenient for you to now say that “we are all McGill” when you have spent the past few years destroying any semblance of a campus community. You and your administration evicted students from space on campus, denied them the right to associate themselves with their own university, and made major cuts to funding and programs. Yet it is not in the least bit surprising to see the P.R. war that you have waged the past two months.

As someone who was just approved for graduation, I had a chance to reflect on my time at McGill and on the McGill community as a whole. People often say that McGill students are apathetic, and perhaps justifiably, but simply acknowledging the fact that many McGill students don’t care about what’s happening at the University misses a major part of the story. The relationship that the administration at McGill fosters with its students more and more reflects a patron-client relationship rather than that of an academic community.

Many are proud to identify as McGill students, but the administration seems to want to deny us that right, or at least make us associate ourselves with the University on their terms. Their most recent actions show how misguided their views are. Student protestors are clearly passionate about this University, yet the administration has attempted to silence them and treat some of them like enemies of the state. Likewise, MUNACA employees who are a major part of this University have been constantly disparaged and fallaciously portrayed as villains who vandalize buildings and terrorize elderly alums. It is evident that the administration plays a major role in the alienation that is endemic amongst the McGill community. When you write, “we are all McGill,” her actions are saying, “we, the administration, are McGill and you will do as you’re told.” These actions do not strengthen communities, but instead tear them apart.

Sincerely,

Eric Wen
Eric Wen is a graduating McGill Faculty of Arts student and a former Sports editor at The Daily.

Dear Principal Munroe-Blum,

Around this time last year, I was frantically going through University brochures, trying to decide what to do with the next four years of my life after high school. Despite the last minute changes and thousands of unanswered questions, I chose to come to McGill.

I have an immense amount of respect for this institution; for the professors, the support staff, and the administration. I respect that there must be logistical aspects of the strike that are sometimes invisible to the students and the public. I respect that problems must be “resolved at the negotiating table through dialogue and compromise.”

But what I don’t respect, Madame Principal, is that this McGill is no longer the McGill University I chose to be a part of. I didn’t choose to attend an institution that denies the rights of the very people who make it work. And I can’t help but to think that neither you nor the administration care about students who can’t use McGill health services; or about the kids struggling to make ends meet because documents are not getting processed fast enough at the Student Aid office. And what about Service Point, and the postponed independent research, and the closed libraries? You may make critical decisions and act as the face of McGill – you may be credited for McGill’s academic standing or sign proposals into school regulations, but you and the administration are not the backbone on which this university is built on.

The fact that you’re choosing to frame MUNACA into a monster organization – when in fact, they’re simply asking for fair wages – is dividing the school community into pockets of hostile groups. We are not all McGill. You are your McGill and we, along with MUNACA, are our McGill.

The strike started on the first day, of the first year of my first university experience. I, with hundreds of other first years, don’t know what we’re missing out on – we can’t imagine McGill without the picket lines outside of the Roddick Gates.

I stand by MUNACA because I thought I came to a school that encourages equality, fairness, and free speech. As someone who chose to make McGill University her university, I am asking you to give us back our school.

Sincerely,

Esther Lee
Esther Lee is a U0 McGill student. You can reach her at yoo.j.lee@mail.mcgill.ca

 

Dear Principal Munroe-Blum,

The undersigned professors, members of the Department of History, are writing to express our concern about the current labour dispute between MUNACA and the university. Leaving aside the substantive issues under negotiation, we wish to focus on the conduct of the strike and the effect it is having on the atmosphere within the university and on McGill’s reputation in the broader community.

That the conflict has become so bitter can be attributed to a significant degree to the administration’s aggressive use of security guards and restrictive injunctions. Picketing in labour disputes typically involves some noise and disruption; certainly that has been a feature of strikes at other Canadian universities. By preventing customary forms of picketing, the administration has escalated and embittered the conflict.
Together with the reliance on guards and injunctions, the recent move to institute disciplinary proceedings against two student officials of SSMU suggests an administration strategy of silencing opposing views. We consider this repressive approach antithetical to the basic ideals and mission of the university.

In this context, we must object to the series of “strike news” bulletins we have been receiving in recent weeks from the principal, the provost and the vice-principal (administration and finance). Presenting a one-sided management view of the conflict at a time when other viewpoints are being suppressed, these communications are framed in the language of reason, virtue, and high ideals. We find it unseemly under the circumstances for the university administration to be casting itself in the role of defender of “our longstanding McGill tradition of respectful and civil discourse, where people are free to speak, to disagree and voice their views without harassment, intimidation and insult.”

The implication that faculty, students and support workers with a different view of the strike are somehow a threat to this “McGill tradition” strikes us as objectionable.
We understand that this conflict presents difficult challenges for all parties and we join you in hopes for a speedy resolution. Meanwhile, we ask for greater restraint in the administration’s conduct of the dispute and fuller respect towards the rights of our striking co-workers.

Sincerely,

Allan Greer, Faith Wallis, Daviken Studnicki-Gizbert, Jarrett Rudy, Suzanne Morton, Catherine LeGrand, Catherine Desbarats, Griet Vandeerberghen, Gershon Hundert, Brian Cowan, Malek Abisaab, Valentin J. Boss, Tassos Anastassiadis, Elizabeth Elbourne, Brian J. Young, Jon Soske, Brian Lewis, Nicholas Dew, Andrea Tone, Desmond Morton

 

Dear Principal Munroe-Blum,

Although the learning experience has become more difficult on students during these times of strike, the McGill-MUNACA conflict has certainly educated me on the ways in which education is being corrupted by universities in our time. The current conflict illustrates how McGill has continuously jeopardized the quality of its education, in its pursuit for capital.

The McGill community should be concerned by the administration’s flagrant corporatization of education. And you, as a part of the current administration, are undermining the university itself by reducing academia to a simple economic good. By virtue of the immense social value that it brings, education transcends any monetary value; therefore, it cannot be treated like any other commodity.

Furthermore, McGill’s conflicts with unions across campus show that you prioritize financial endeavours above educational pursuits. Through this prioritization of financial endeavours, the strike has continued well into the semester, and is undeniably compromising the academic experience of all students.

Similarly, in the negotiations with AGSEM, you have continuously refused to give TAs several resources that would improve undergraduate education. As long as your administration refuses to meet these groups’ demands, you will continue to fail students by depriving them of an adequate education. And any amount of capital that McGill might be saving will never counterbalance the educational quality that has been lost.

I understand that McGill’s conflict with MUNACA comes from the administration’s desire to avoid financial deficits or to have more financial responsibility. But McGill seems to be ignoring its ethical responsibilities in the process. As a centre of critical thinking, McGill cannot run on ethical deficits either, and the way in which the administration has treated groups that oppose their views is simply unethical.

If the administration continues to treat education like a market product, one can only expect the same from students. And if students start to view their education in this kind of superficial way, they will let their academic experience bypass them without taking full advantage of it. It is through this process of commodification – led by the administration and followed by students – that academia is being threatened. And it is disturbing to witness how educational institutions are leading this charge.

With this letter, I ask that you take a lesson in learning and realize that teaching should be McGill’s top priority – not money. And to do so, the administration ought to acknowledge that everyone in the McGill community, including support workers, is an important part of the educational experience. McGill cannot continue to fail the test of providing quality education, because if it does it is failing society and the future.

Sincerely,

Juan Camilo Velásquez

Juan Camilo Velásquez is U1 Economics student. You can reach him at juan.velasquez@mail.mcgill.ca.


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