Last Tuesday, the Post Graduate Students’ Society of McGill (PGSS) announced its 2012 campaign to fight against the $1,625 tuition fee hike planned over the next five years.
The press conference – hosted by PGSS VP External Mariève Isabel and attended by eight people, most of whom were student journalists – took place on the same day that VP (Finance and Administration) Michael Di Grappa warned, in an email to all staff and students the day before, that tuition demonstrations could intrude on campus.
Di Grappa’s email specifically referred to demonstrations supposedly planned by the Fédération étudiante universitaire du Québec (FEUQ) and the Fédération étudiante collégiale du Québec (FECQ) .
The email stated: “We are writing today to alert you to the possibility – however remote – of some turmoil on our downtown campus tomorrow.”
At the press conference, Isabel expressed concern that the message was directed toward PGSS, explaining that, as far as she knew, the press conference was the only event connected to FEUQ or FECQ that had been planned on campus for Tuesday.
According to Isabel, PGSS is the only McGill student organization that works closely with FEUQ. She added that FEUQ does not come onto campus for events or demonstrations.
“[McGill administrators are] not defending this email,” said Isabel in an email to The Daily. “Rather, they apologized for singling out FEUQ. They mentioned that they didn’t mean to damage anyone’s image.”
According to Di Grappa, the email “was not about anything specific, although there were examples given of some events. We just were aware of a number of activities that were happening in the run-up to the call for the general strike in March, and in light of circumstances in the past, we thought it was important to inform members of the community about this.”
Tuition hike demonstrations have twice this year spilled onto campus: on October 4 and November 10.
When asked whether the University will continue to send out similar emails regarding demonstrations on and around campus, Di Grappa said, “We’ll think about it on a case-by-case basis, depending on what’s being planned.”
According to FEUQ President Martine Desjardins, the group had nothing planned for Tuesday, although some of its member associations had independent plans for “symbolic action.” Among these was a delivery of 1,625 letters to the Minister of Education by Université du Québec à Montréal (UQAM) students.
Desjardins confirmed that the only event planned at McGill was the PGSS press conference.
Referring to the email, she said, “We’re not that kind of association. It’s great visibility for us, but it’s not what we’re planning. We reserve the right to make the government back down, but it’s very pacific demonstrations and symbolic actions.”
This is not the first time McGill has been criticized for mass emails sent to staff and students.
“During the MUNACA strike, there were a lot of messages that were sent that were criticized for being biased,” said Isabel. However, she pointed out that this is the first time she has seen a specific student group targeted.
At the press conference, Isabel laid out the PGSS’ plans for the winter semester. “We will continue to campaign against the raise in tuition fees – we are more convinced than ever that it is necessary.”
The campaign includes a conference in March about alternatives to raising tuition fees, and ongoing research on the effects of ancillary fees on students.
PGSS is also planning on participating in the March 22 one-day student strike, a demonstration Isabel hoped will be “peaceful and festive, and humongous.”