Just over twelve hours after the room was occupied by student protestors, a group of McGill history professors met with Principal Heather Munroe-Blum in her office Friday morning to discuss the tense campus discourse that has emerged from the MUNACA strike this semester.
The professors, who published a letter condemning the administration’s response to the strike in the November 7 issue of The Daily, were offered coffee and sat around a large table in Munroe-Blum’s fifth-floor office in the James Administration building.
“The first issue was what had happened last night,” said Daviken Studnicki-Gizbert, an associate history professor of Latin American history, referring to the Montreal police’s violent dispersal of student protestors on campus Thursday night. At the time of the meeting – 8:30 a.m. – Munroe-Blum had not yet been briefed on Thursday night’s events, and was unable to explain why police had been called to campus.
The topic of the meeting, however, was the administration’s handling of the campus environment since the MUNACA strike began on September 1. In their letter, the professors accused the administration of “presenting a one-sided management view of the conflict at a time when other viewpoints are being suppressed.”
According to interviews with professors who attended the meeting, Munroe-Blum addressed her widely-discussed “We are all McGill” email, in which Munroe-Blum accused picketers of intimidating students and alumni. However, citing the privacy of the meeting, none of the professors interviewed went into detail about the contents of Munroe-Blum’s explanation.
Studnicki-Gizbert said that, more broadly, “She acknowledged that there was a problem with communication, that communication was not this one-way flow of demands coming from the administration.”
According to Studnicki-Gizbert, Munroe-Blum then asked professors what they would do to improve the campus discourse. He suggested a constituent assembly, in which faculty, students, administrators, and support staff would gather to talk about the big issues facing the University.
A number of professors also discussed the strike in the context of labour history, noting that the administration’s use of injunctions was unusually harsh. “We’re all historians, so we gave her a historical perspective,” said Brian Cowan, a professor of British history.
The twenty professors who signed the November 7 letter received an emailed invitation from Munroe-Blum last Tuesday, a day after the letter was published. “I don’t think we expected to get such a prompt response,” said Cowan.
According to professors, around a dozen of them attended the meeting Friday – and those who didn’t attend had teaching commitments or were out of town.
Several of them struck a conciliatory tone in interviews after the meeting on Friday. “We were received very courteously, in the spirit of frank and productive exchange,” said Suzanne Morton, a professor of Canadian social history.
Cowan echoed this, saying he believed Munroe-Blum was acting in good faith: “It really was designed to be an occasion for dialogue.”
“It was heartening to see that our collective cris-de-coeur had been heeded,” he added. “More dialogue will help calm tempers, and possibly help us become a community again.”