Commentary  Is McGill a consequence free environment?

Michael di Grappa says in his MRO of 9 February, an update on the recent party on the sixth floor of James, that there is concern among us that our university has become a “consequence-free environment”. I share this concern. McGill has indeed become a place where certain people act with impunity or at least believe that they may do so. I do not mean the sixth-floor partiers: they were negotiating for the reinstatement of fall student referendum results and the resignation of Deputy Provost for Student Life and Learning, Morton Mendelson. They were not – so far as I am aware – negotiating for academic amnesty. The only people at McGill who seem to believe that they cannot be held to account for what they do are members of the higher administration, notably Mr. di Grappa himself, Provost Tony Masi, and Principal Heather Monroe-Blum.

       Since the arrival of the current principal, the McGill higher administration has systematically arrogated to itself the power to dictate its terms to every constituency on campus. It has hollowed out our already weak Senate. It unilaterally savaged the pensions and benefits of staff and faculty this past July. It has cynically presided over deteriorating teaching and learning conditions, all the while trumpeting rankings that are meaningless to everybody except our corporate partners (whoever they may be). It has dealt with labour issues in a consistently thuggish manner. It has repeatedly preempted the recognised processes of student government.

       The continued existence of QPIRG and CKUT – the issue behind the current six-floor action – is inextricably connected to the on-line system for opting-out of fees for independent student groups. This system was imposed by the higher administration in 2007 without student consultation: in spite of the objections of the affected groups and in spite of a subsequent SSMU GA and a referendum calling for the abolition of the on-line opt-out system and a restoration of the opt-out in person scheme that existed before 2007. The administration  refused to go back to the old system. It refused to work out, with the affected groups, any kind of mutually-agreeable alternative.

       This issue has galvanized student activists not simply because they have a sentimental attachment to a couple of groups on campus. You might never listen to CKUT programming. You might actively oppose every single cause taken up by QPIRG. You might care less which student groups have a future. But still you may not remain indifferent to this matter. The interference of the administration in student government is symptomatic of its high handed dealing with all of us. That, as much as anything, is what motivated the six-floor activists.

       McGill is not a “consequence-free environment”. Having acted in so high-handed a manner for so long, the administration must now learn to accept that it has alienated significant numbers in every part of our community. It should not be surprised that some students have resorted to direct actions to press their point. What are the alternatives? Consultation fairs and townhalls are opportunities for members of the community to vent, but nothing ever comes of that. Would those who have lost patience be better advised to arrange a meeting with, say, Tony Masi in the company of a local alley cat, with the hope of convincing the Provost to give a display of his great power by turning himself into a mouse? Then it would just be a matter of letting nature take its course.

Alison Laywine is an associate professor in the Department of Philosophy. She can be reached at