As the Quebec student strike enters its seventh week, striking students at McGill and Concordia have started reaching out to their respective administrations about respecting and accommodating the strike during exams.
Friday morning, a group of about twenty students held a press conference outside the James Administration building before delivering an open letter to Principal Heather Munroe-Blum. The letter – signed by 41 McGill students, professors and employees, and endorsed by six campus student groups and unions – made three requests of Munroe-Blum and Provost Anthony Masi.
The first request was that they push back the submission date for graduate theses by three working days in respect of the three-day graduate student strike, which lasted from March 19 to 22; the second, that they push the extended deadline for grade submission back by one week across the University; and finally, that they publically encourage professors and course lecturers in striking departments who have scheduled exams to work with departmental strike committees “to determine alternative ways of completing coursework…including providing grades of K (incomplete) to all students who have lost time due to the strikes.”
Susan Aberman, Munroe-Blum’s chief of staff, accepted the letter outside the James building. She said Munroe-Blum had “University business off campus.”
The letter calls for a “University-wide response” to avoid “potentially disastrous consequences to students’ academic achievement, and by extension the reputation of the University and the quality of the research it produces,” as a result of the strike.
“Formulating a response at the level of the University as a whole is the responsibility of McGill’s upper administration,” read the letter. “By abdicating their role to provide leadership in addressing the consequences of the strikes at McGill, the administration of this University unjustly penalizes students in a manner contrary to the larger interests of the University.”
The letter added that, “to treat the strike as a matter of individual conscience between professors and students is to put McGill’s teaching staff in an untenable position, caught between opposing pressures.”
There are currently over five hundred McGill students on strike, with some having been on strike for as long as four weeks. During the press conference, Mona Luxion, a PhD student in Urban Planning, Policy, and Design, said the administration “needs to recognize that strike and start to make accommodations for the [striking] students.”
“We’re here as a group of students and professors and members of labour unions, to call on the administration to take some concrete steps in terms of supporting the students who are on strike and recognizing their demands, and making sure that this semester can continue to unfold smoothly,” continued Luxion.
In an interview with The Daily, Luxion said the letter was not asking for the extension of the semester.
“It’s more creating some leeway for the discussion at the departmental level to even happen,” she continued.
Associate Director of Media Relations Julie Fortier wrote to The Daily in an email Friday morning that the administration “will need some time to look at the letter and the requests that it contains” before commenting.
Luxion said that if Munroe-Blum doesn’t reply, “we will certainly be following up.”
At Concordia, some departmental associations have been on strike since March 5. There are currently several thousand students on strike at the university, including undergraduates in the Fine Arts faculty, as well as the Geography and Women’s Studies departments.
Last Wednesday, students from two of the university’s striking departmental associations held a press conference with CLASSE spokespeople Gabriel Nadeau-Dubois and Jeanne Reynolds. CLASSE is a temporary coalition of striking student associations across the province under the Association pour une Solidarité Syndicale Étudiante (ASSÉ).
Gabrielle Bouchard, an undergraduate student in Concordia’s Simone de Beauvoir Institute, said “there has been a denial of this [strike] from the beginning.”
“Here at Concordia, since the start we’ve been going through the protest movement in a situation where the university administration has shown significant [opposition],” said Bouchard in French.
Concordia Director of Media Relations Chris Mota said on Wednesday that efforts are being made by the universities Deans “to help students get through the year without compromising the integrity of the course[s].”
On Friday, Concordia announced in an email to students that they would waive the $20 fee for applying for Incomplete status, which allows extended deadlines for submitting work for their final grade.
Mota said that Concordia will not extend the semester.
“The university’s position has been the same from the beginning, and it’s not going to change,” she said.
Final exams began at Concordia last Thursday, with about 75 protesters blocking entrance to the Hall Building on Concordia’s downtown campus for 45 minutes before being dispersed by riot police using CS gas.
As for the students continuing to strike through the exam period, Mota said that they’re “accepting the risks.”
“Those who choose not to attend exams when exams are being held, they know the consequences,” she said. “There’s just nothing more we can add.”
At the Wednesday press conference, Nadeau-Dubois said CLASSE attended to show its “unconditional support” for the Concordia students on strike.
“Unfortunately, since the start of the conflict [they] have faced an intransigent and undemocratic attitude in their talks with their administration,” he said in French.
Nadeau-Dubois said he found the Concordia administration’s attitude “difficult to understand,” since administrations at UQAM and some CEGEPs have already begun discussing ways to accommodate striking students academically.
He added that CLASSE also wanted “to warn the administration of Concordia that if they continue in their business-as-usual attitude” tensions would “go up on the campus.”
“Our coalition and our militants will be there on the campus to help the students, to help the strikers, in order to make their democratic-mandated strike respected,” he continued.