During the consultation session held on Wednesday in the Faculty Club, a handful of students described the administration’s protest protocol documents as being too ambiguous.
Student associations, professors, and unions on campus have been echoing this sentiment for some time with regard to the language in the “Statement of Values on Freedom of Expression and Freedom of Assembly” and the “Operational Procedures” documents.
“Clarity” was the watchword at the second of two consultation sessions hosted by McGill’s senior administrators about the documents – a revised version of the University’s protocol on campus protests.
Senior administrators, along with members of McGill’s legal team involved in drafting the protocol, heard from the six students who attended the consultation that terms like “inconvenience,” “intentionality,” and “intensity” needed to be more clearly defined in any future versions of the protocol.
Lydia White, McGill’s associate provost in charge of policies and procedures admitted as much, saying that “as a linguistics professor, there are some problems of ambiguity here and we may need to revisit those terms.”
The six students, along with several student journalists, were split into two discussion groups, one moderated by Dean of Students Andre Costopoulos, the other moderated by White, along with Deputy Provost Morton Mendelson and McGill’s chief lawyer, Line Thibault.
The session’s two discussion groups further concluded that a clearer link should be drawn between the administration’s new Statement of Values and its proposed operating procedures.
The two documents stemmed from the re-examination of the original protest protocol, following widespread condemnation from campus unions, as well as the Canadian Civil Liberties Union.
There were no representatives of campus unions present, despite having organized a protest against the protocol in January.
Lilian Radovac, president of AGSEM – the union representing Teaching Assistants and Course Lecturers – said that the union had made a decision not to attend.
“Given that the university intends to bypass Senate and include some aspect of the protocol in the operating procedure, we see no reason to participate in consultation sessions. [Consultation sessions] won’t change that outcome,” Radovac said.
Central to discussions at both tables was whether or not campus protest should be allowed to “obstruct” or “disrupt” the way the university functions. Summarizing the discussion he moderated, Costopoulos said that the central problem was one of thresholds and how low they should be.
According to the students in his group, he said, the current threshold outlined in the operating procedures – of allowing members of the university to attend to their normal activities on university premises, free from disruption – is too low.
The University’s protocol on campus protest was written in response to the several-day-long occupation of the James Administration building just over a year ago.
Asked if building occupation was a legitimate method for voicing student grievance, both Costopoulos and Vice-Principal (Administration & Finance) Michael Di Grappa said that it was, under certain circumstances. Di Grappa specifically referenced the importance of considering the rights of those who work in administration buildings.
White, one of the protocol’s authors, declined to definitively state whether or not the tactic was legitimate, saying that it may not be in places “where you’re preventing business from being done.”