Commentary | Satire is the least of your problems

Criticism of power is critical

After the events of November 10, the principal made a point of appearing at the “We are all McGill,” rally, ostensibly to show students that she was alive and well and part of the McGill community. The next major event that the principal publicly attended on campus involved several tonnes of chopped fruit, a PR stunt apparently worthy of  a prime spot on the McGill home page. But just because the administration is interacting with the students doesn’t mean they’re saying anything.

The administration would like us to know that they have taken steps to improve communication between those in James and those on Lower Field. From chatty emails about vacation plans, to food-focused events on campus, to creating a Director of Internal Communications, expanding surface-level and superficial communication was clearly a summer priority for the highest-paid employees at the University. Vice-Principal (Administration and Finance) Michael Di Grappa of “[students] don’t have a right to demonstrate on campus” fame even announced that the administration totally heard faculty and student concerns that a constant and visible security presence at the doors of the James Administration building “didn’t make people feel welcome” (shocking!).

The Daily exists to critique and examine power relations and imbalances. Morton Mendelson, Deputy Provost (Student Life and Learning), feels that using satire as a vehicle for this criticism – and using his public persona as a figurehead for the administration – is mean-spirited and tiresome (“A personal attack from behind a screen,” Commentary, September 13, page 6). There is an inherent power imbalance between the administration and the students at McGill. Students have almost no input in the major decisions of our university, despite having to bear the brunt of these decisions’ consequences. Our modes of communication with each other are limited to student publications that print a few thousand copies – quite a bit fewer than emails that reach every student and faculty member through the MRO email system.

Accurate critiques of power are never “fair and balanced,” which the phrase’s positioning as the motto of Fox News should make clear. When the outside world wants to know what’s going on at McGill, it’s those on the sixth floor of James that are contacted – one of the few times students themselves were asked was when they took it upon themselves to be on that sixth floor. And whenever students reveal and address this power imbalance, regardless of the manner in which it’s done, it’s often dismissed as whiny disobedience and ad hominem attacks.

The administration doesn’t seem to understand that hollow reassurances and weak gestures towards fostering community do nothing to give students back the power they’ve lost over the past years on this campus. Student autonomy has been consistently eroding, as student control over our own spaces, groups, and funding slips away. All the mingle-friendly barbecues in the world won’t taste as good as Arch Café’s student-centricity (and brownies) did. All the peppy emails you can think of won’t erase the memories of MROs being used to warn students of the horrors of a student demonstration walking by the Roddick Gates. And not even the largest fruit salad in the history of human civilization will nourish student groups during the grueling, divisive, and useless practice of existence referenda (and no, I’m not just saying that because The Daily is forced to hold one). Instead of coming up with events that are supposed to “promote the values of inclusivity and community,” how about the administration promotes those values by not pitting students against each other in a battle to save the lives of valuable organizations like QPIRG?

As a wise McGill disciplinarian once told me, being a public figure has its downsides. I don’t know about you, but I’d rather my position have the downside of absurd satire than have to work at the mercy of an uncompromising and unchallenged administration.

Queen Arsem-O’Malley is wary of relationships but maintains a profound love of satire and ATI requests. She is The Daily’s Coordinating editor. All opinions expressed are her own. Email her at queen.arsem-omalley@mail.mcgill.ca.

Have a response or something to say? The Commentary section of The Daily prints the opinions of students who submit pieces to us. We want to hear from a variety of voices on campus. To write a response to this article or to write an opinion piece of your own, email commentary@mcgilldaily.com.