Since the #6party occupation began last Tuesday, those on campus (and many outside of it) have voiced their opinions of the action, with statements running the gamut from praise to general frustration. A lot of attention was paid to hash tags, pulley systems, security not identifying themselves, and shit in bags, obscuring the deep-seated problems with the McGill administration that prompted this occupation in the first place.
The absence of Deputy Provost (Student Life and Learning) Morton Mendelson, and any of his staff, from #6party negotiations was particularly noticeable, considering that it was his office that was occupied, that one of the party’s demands concerned his position at the University, and that their primary demand – to recognize the decision of the nearly ⅔ majority who voted in last fall’s CKUT and QPIRG referenda – falls under his portfolio. Instead, Associate VP (University Services) Jim Nicell was the administration’s sole negotiator, and his negotiations consisted of repeating how the administration would not negotiate. Nicell represented the administration in his capacity as manager of Security Services, underscoring the administration’s position that the occupation was an issue of campus security and not student life.
The fact that students cannot even speak with a specific administrator when occupying his office for five days only goes to show that the administration will only consult with students on their terms.
Furthermore, the absence of comment from our Principal until hours after the o ccupiers’ eviction – even though she later acknowledged that she made a special effort to stay on campus throughout most of the occupation – goes against the promises she made after November 10 to be more engaged in campus life. The Principal’s comments after-the-fact were designed to illegitimize the occupation, dismissing it is an inconvenient campus disturbance as opposed to the last resort many students felt was left for them to get their voices heard.
The administration’s first and most decisive response to the occupation was to implement a provisional protocol granting themselves ambiguous liberties to disperse campus protests. While McGill should have guidelines for campus protests – until now they have had no such guidelines – a protocol that gives Security the ability to call the police should a demonstration “impede University activities” is a strike against free speech. These new powers are too far reaching and can easily be abused: whatever you think of calling police on an occupation, just about any kind of protest can be said to “impede University activities”. That’s no reason to ban them outright. Indeed, student protests are themselves a time-honoured and integral university activity.
In Senate this week, the Principal responded to student concerns with the protocol, saying that some points of the protocol are not up for discussion. The Principal did not specify which clauses will be immune to student amendment, only adding: “When we speak of ambiguity, I would say, welcome to the real world.”
The administration has promised consultation on the protocol, but it is now clear that this consultation will not address it as a whole – an unnerving power play that does not bode well for the administration’s post-November 10 relations with students.