Commentary | Say no to student democracy

A response to the McGill Governance Reform Project

I never imagined I would write a piece with this title. After receiving an invitation to attend a communal assembly for the revolutionary “McGill Governance Reform Project,” I felt I had no choice. The project calls for the democratization of the McGill governance structure, particularly through increased student representation on decision-making bodies. Some students believe proportional representation is the most just solution. In other words: they call for a student-run university, inspired, I am sure, by César De Paepe, Karl Marx, and others who applied similar ideas to democracy at the workplace. I disagree strongly with such ideas.

There is a crucial difference between a nation-state and a university. Universities are institutions, not countries. I do not believe that institutions should be run on the principle of popular sovereignty. Just as workers should not run a corporation, students should not run McGill. We need, however, to have a voice and better dialogue. This is in the interest of us all.

I am part of the executive of the Political Science Students’ Association. It is my impression that we have an excellent relationship with the chair and the professors in our department. We are consulted on which courses students would like to see and we are actively involved when new professors are hired. We are not in a majority, but we have a say and a vote. We are actively involved in processes outside of and before formal meetings in which decisions are made through a vote. Through these consultative processes we are indeed able to find common ground on most issues. In the event that we disagree, I would never think of occupying the office of our chair, Richard Schultz.

Precisely because the University is not a democracy, our impact as students depends not on the number of representatives we have, but, rather, on the ability of those we already send to the decision-making bodies to work constructively with the administration before and during formal meetings. Surely, we do not need more representation as much as we need better representation.

I believe that a reform of the governance structure is unnecessary. Instead we must change the way we approach disagreements with the administration. We need to show the administration that we are not just as a group of adversarial students who find great pleasure in occupying offices and have nothing to contribute except anger and dissatisfaction. Rather, we ought to be solution-oriented representatives of a diverse student body. I am sure such an approach will be an important contribution to improving the negative campus discourse. At the end of the day, we are all McGill.