Commentary  Refuting the claims of the Art History and Communication Studies Graduate Students Association

The PGSS executives respond to allegations made in open letter

The Executive Committee of the Post-Graduate Students’ Society (PGSS) has recently learned of the commentary article “Denouncing PGSS’s anti-democratic culture” (Commentary, May 8 2013) prepared by the department of Art History and Communication Studies Graduate Students Association (AHCS-GSA).

This letter contains factual errors, distortions, and misrepresentations that belie a fundamental ignorance of the rules of order governing the PGSS. Moreover, in criticizing an “anti-democratic culture,” the letter hypocritically and cynically cites democratically made decisions of PGSS governing bodies as examples.

The letter claims, “two of our members, the PGSS Equity Commissioner and the External Affairs Officer, have been repeatedly harassed and intimidated while trying to carry out their duties.”

Harassment allegations were investigated by the PGSS Board of Directors upon the request of the two parties and found to be unsubstantiated. The Board’s report is available here.

The letter claims, “The Chief Returning Officer (CRO) had verbally assaulted PGSS members and was disregarding election rules.”

First, the PGSS Appeals Board ruled with regard to complaints regarding election rules that “The CRO acted correctly and without error…”

Second, the term “assault” has a very specific meaning in the Canadian Criminal Code.  “Verbal” assault is when one “…threatens, by an act or a gesture, to apply force to another person…” The CRO never threatened to apply force to PGSS members and the authors of this letter would do well to avoid making false and potentially libelous accusations.

Next, the letter claims, “a protest that took place during the February husting….was used as an excuse to censure the Equity Commissioner.”

This so-called “peaceful protest” involved a group of members repeatedly humiliating and insulting a PGSS employee. The Equity Commissioner was censured by PGSS Council “for contributing to an unsafe, hostile, and inequitable working environment for a PGSS employee.” The Equity Commissioner’s actions “disregarding the rights of PGSS employees to have complaints about them dealt with in a private manner that respects of the principles due process, natural justice, and employees’ right to a safe working environment” formed the basis of the censure motion, not the fact that a protest occurred.

The letter claims that new procedures for dealing with member conduct are “nothing more than a method for intimidating and controlling members.” It is worth noting that the PGSS operates a restaurant and bar at Thomson House.  Clear procedures are necessary to deal with inappropriate behavior to ensure a safe work environment where a spirited exchange of ideas, including dissenting ones, can flourish.

The letter claims, “The quality of democratic debate and oversight over PGSS affairs has been hampered by actions on the part of the Executive to shut out members from the process. One prime example of this was the April 10 council debate of the motion calling for censuring the Equity Commissioner. Immediately a motion for closed session was moved.”

This claim includes several inaccuracies. First, the motion to enter closed session was moved by a regular councilor, not an executive.  Second, no executives spoke or voted in favor of the motion.  Third, the terms “closed session,” “confidential session,” and “executive session” mean the same thing, a fact seemingly lost on the authors of the letter. Fourth, Robert’s Rules state, “In any society, matters relating to discipline…should properly be handled only in executive session.” Rather than “shut members out of the process,” PGSS has properly conducted its affairs in accordance with these rules.

The letter goes on to state, “On a number of occasions, the Chair has given preferential treatment and speaking time to members of the Executive.”

This claim is utterly false.  The Chair has properly recognized members in the order they appear at the microphone and has never given preferential treatment to executives.

Next, the letter states, “During the 2012 (sic) AGM, executives motioned to strike a member motion to censure Jonathan Mooney and Adam Bouchard from the agenda.” All society members have the right to motivate to remove a motion from the agenda. To deny this right to society members on the executive committee would be undemocratic. Moreover, the proposal to remove the motion from the agenda was passed by a simple majority vote of PGSS members.

The letter states, “The fairness in debate was also hampered in the April 10 council meeting by a special resolution for confidentiality imposed by the PGSS Board of Directors.”

Robert’s Rules state that in the course of an investigation into a member’s character, “neither the society nor any member has the right to make public any information obtained through such an investigation.” The obligation to maintain confidentiality was rightly pointed out by the Board’s statement but it already existed; moreover, this obligation is unrelated to debate on the censure motion.

The letter states, “At the March 20 Senate meeting, the Secretary General voted in favor of adopting McGill’s Statement of Values, and against the position adopted in PGSS motions at prior council meetings that rejected the intent of this document.”

PGSS Council never “rejected the intent of [the] document” because it never discussed the Statement of Principles.  The only motion passed was that “PGSS raise awareness among members of … concerns [about the Protocol].”  The Protocol and the Statement of Principles are different documents.

The letter states, “The Equity Commissioner was targeted by the Executive Committee for censure because of a conversation she had before Senate with the Secretary General about his intention to vote for the Statement of Values.”

Actually, the Equity Commissioner was censured by PGSS Council “for threatening a PGSS officer in an attempt to coerce the officer to vote a certain way at the McGill Senate.”

If PGSAs or PGSS members have issues with the decisions of PGSS or its officers, we encourage them to utilize the democratic processes available to effect change rather than publicize letters containing false claims and which reveal a fundamental ignorance about the rules of order governing the society.

The Executive Committee of the Post-Graduate Students’ Society of McGill University:
Jonathan Mooney
Adam Bouchard
Erik Larson
Michael Krause
Elizabeth Cawley