The McGill English department voted last week to censure the Department of English Student Association (DESA), according to multiple sources in the department.
In a departmental meeting last Tuesday, faculty members reportedly debated the motion for several hours. English professor Ara Osterweil, who attended the meeting, wrote in an email to The Daily that “there was much disagreement in the department about how to respond to the actions of the student strike.”
DESA organized a General Assembly (GA) two weeks ago, at which DESA members voted to declare an unlimited general strike in protest of upcoming tuition increases. At a renewal GA the following week, DESA membership voted to end the strike.
The DESA executive has not been formally notified of the result of the vote, said DESA President Zoe Erwin-Longstaff.
“We’ve heard from professors and students – who’ve seemingly heard from professors – that [a censure is] forthcoming,” she said.
Erwin-Longstaff said she emailed Department Chair Allan Hepburn last week requesting minutes from the meeting, but said Hepburn has yet to respond.
“We’ve been kept completely in the dark about this,” said Erwin-Longstaff. “We don’t know what they were voting on.”
When The Daily asked Hepburn about the outcome of the departmental meeting in an email last Thursday, Hepburn did not disclose the result of the vote, saying the meeting had been held to discuss professors’ “experiences of the protest [strike], and how the department might respond to the protest.”
“The department seeks transparent, open communication with DESA and its committees,” Hepburn added in the email.
When contacted by The Daily, Hepburn said he was not available for comment on Monday.
DESA VP Academic and Daily staffer Ryan Healey commented on the executive’s request for the meeting minutes.
“[Hepburn is] all about transparency to us,” said Healey. “That’s what he wanted from us, and he’s not at all giving any back.”
Neither Erwin-Longstaff nor Healey were clear as to the inciting incidents behind the vote, although they both said they knew many professors in the department disapproved of hard picketing tactics employed by students on the first day of the strike. They were also unsure of the specific subject of the censure.
“It could be the exec, because we took this on,” said Erwin-Longstaff, “but there are a wide variety of opinions [on the strike] from across the executive.”
Healey said DESA’s only relation to the department in their constitution is as “a liaison between faculty and students, and that we get money from them.”
Erwin-Longstaff added that she thought DESA had been an effective liaison during the strike.
“While I think that maybe communication during the week of the strike was not as clear as it could have been,” she said, “beyond that we let [Hepburn] know that this was happening, we had met with him every time he’s requested it.”
Osterweil wrote in her email that some “faculty members insisted [in the meeting] that DESA had no constitutional right to ‘strike.’” She added that “it is extremely important that this protest against tuition is not misconstrued as a battle between faculty and students.”
“It has been a trying time for faculty, students, and staff in the English Department, and on the campus at large,” she continued. “During such periods of transformation and crisis, it is especially important to remember that whatever our individual positions on tuition hikes, or the feasibility of certain protest actions, it is important not to allow fractious and divisive actions to distort the debate about larger, and more important questions of equity, justice, and fair representation. This is equally applicable to both students and faculty.”