Commentary | A personal attack from behind a screen

A reponse to Compendium

The start of an academic year is a time for optimism and a time to welcome new students.  This year, orientation week highlighted inclusivity and community – two values that characterized not only the program, but also the planning.  Months of collaboration and cooperation among McGill’s student associations and groups and the University’s academic and service units resulted in a week marked by vigorous school spirit, warmth, and good will.

Admittedly there were some problems, but so much worked well. As one example, a world-record fruit salad was prepared at an orientation week event, ably planned and organized by Food and Dining Services to promote the values of inclusivity and community as well as to highlight healthful food choices and sustainability. The event was an unparalleled success in terms of fun and community participation – to say nothing about putting McGill in the Guinness Book of World Records.

The McGill Daily could have served students well by constructively covering orientation week. It sadly missed the mark in its first edition of 2012-13.

I was particularly struck by the Compendium section, which featured a piece by Euan EK: “The Sound and the Fury: Fendelson [sic] ‘viscerally sick’ at world-record fruit salad” (Compendium, August 30, Page 28). In case the reader failed to connect Mortono Joaquin Fendelson to Morton J. Mendelson, the piece was accompanied by a see-no-evil-hear-no-evil-speak-no-evil set of drawings of me covered by fruit.

The only viscerally sickening thing was Euan EK’s fictitious portrayal of the event – a puerile and unfunny attempt at satire, unworthy of a high-school newspaper.  The name-calling, as it happens, was not reserved just for me, but was also directed at two other members of the administration, and has been used in similarly mean-spirited “satirical” pieces by Euan EK in previous editions of The Daily.  Regardless, the name-calling formula is reminiscent of what we have all experienced, heard, or engaged in when we were in elementary school.  It was tiresome then; it is no better now.

The author is not even willing to take responsibility – either credit or blame – for the content of the piece, because, as it happens, Euan EK is a pseudonym.  The name-calling is done from behind a screen.

Ironically, the same issue of The Daily included a statement of principles on the editorial page. I wonder how Euan EK’s piece contributes to The Daily serving “as a critical and constructive forum for the exchange of ideas and information about McGill University…” (article 2.1) or how it “depict[s] and analyze[s] power relations accurately” (article 2.2) or how it reflects “an ethic of fairness” (article 2.4).

Although I think Euan EK and The Daily have done McGill students and the community a disservice by slamming an upbeat, positive, community-building event, a diversity of opinions is welcome, necessary, and celebrated on a university campus.  But personal attacks are not welcome; words and civility do matter.

In the McGill I would like to see, the following tenets would hold:

“McGill University is committed to … fostering a community founded upon the fundamental dignity and worth of all of its members. … each member of the University community shares responsibility for respecting the dignity of, and giving fair treatment to all members of the University community.”

These principles come, by the way, from McGill’s Policy on Harassment, Sexual Harassment, and Discrimination Prohibited by Law.

But I remain optimistic about the coming year. Because I trust, in the end, that the student press will collectively serve its readership in a positive fashion, asking tough, pertinent questions and delivering the answers in a fair and balanced manner.

Morton Mendelson is Deputy Provost (Student Life and Learning). He can be reached at morton.mendelson@mcgill.ca.

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