The Board of Governors (BoG) meeting held on October 8 was marked by a protest action organized by campus climate justice organization Divest McGill. More than thirty demonstrators stood in silence in front of the James Administration building to protest the BoG’s and the Committee to Advise on Matters of Social Responsibility (CAMSR)’s lack of response to Divest McGill’s demands for divestment from fossil fuels.
Originally, Divest McGill had planned the action to take the form of a die-in, a form of direct action where participants simulate being dead. However, the group decided to change the nature of the protest, given that die-ins have most recently been used by Black Lives Matter activists and they did not want to appropriate the technique.
“All of us need to recognize our position as participants in this protest. We are not the people who will be hit hardest by extraction and climate change. We have changed the nature of the demonstration to better reflect our own positionality,” announced Fiona McRaith, an organizer with Divest McGill.
Speaking to The Daily, Evan Berry, a member of Divest McGill, said, “A big issue with environmental justice movements is that they’re very white, classist, and inaccessible to other groups of people. […] Global warming, extraction, building of fossil fuel infrastructure – all of that happens on the lands, in the communities, of certain marginalized populations. As a result, for them to have a die-in as the people who are directly implicated in that and then bring allies into it would make most sense for that situation.”
“All of us need to recognize our position as participants in this protest. We are not the people who will be hit hardest by extraction and climate change. We have changed the nature of the demonstration to better reflect our own positionality.”
Despite the protest action, only a few members of the BoG walked through the “human forest” set up by Divest McGill. Berry said some members of the BoG might have used other entrances to enter the building.
“We knew that there were other entrances to the building, and we thought that it would be more important to get more people centralized in one location to send a message to the people who actually saw it,” stated Berry.
The BoG meeting saw a presentation given by Robin D. Rogers, a McGill professor and Canada Excellence Research Chair in Green Chemistry and Green Chemicals. Rogers talked about the importance of producing “technologies that are environmentally sustainable, economically sustainable, and socially sustainable, while developing entrepreneurs, new companies, [and] new knowledge.”
“Investment in clear energy is disappearing because oil is cheap,” Rogers said. It was around this point that members of Divest McGill entered the room to observe the meeting.
Principal Suzanne Fortier announced her priorities for the 2015-16 academic year, including student life and learning, research, community engagement, workplace improvements, transforming the campus, demonstrating good governance and sound management, and participating in the development of public policies and in outside boards and councils.
Speaking at the meeting, Fortier said, “I think that they’re very important priorities for our community. They help us set goals and directions for our university and, as such, I don’t think they’re likely to change from year to year.”
“Some of the visitors in the room would be interested to know that although the Board has nothing to report on Divest, CAMSR has reported to the executive committee.”
However, Fortier warned the BoG that the pace at which these priorities can be pursued could be affected by economic circumstances, especially under the effects of provincial budget cuts to higher education.
“I think that seeing the principal’s priorities [is] good in terms of seeing where they align with what the students think the priorities are of the university, so that [we] as student executives can tailor what our students need into the priorities and frame them in terms of the priorities that the university already has,” Secretary-General of the Post-Graduate Students’ Society of McGill (PGSS) Danielle Toccalino told The Daily.
The BoG listened to Board Committee Reports, at which point members of Divest McGill stood up to display picket signs, some of which said, “CAMSR: Nothing to report?!”
During his report from the executive committee, Stuart “Kip” Cobett, the chair of BoG and CAMSR, said, “Some of the visitors in the room would be interested to know that although the Board has nothing to report on Divest, CAMSR has reported to the executive committee. CAMSR had a meeting in August. CAMSR has another committee meeting scheduled for two weeks from now. So the process continues.”
In an email to The Daily, Julianna Duholke, an organizer with Divest McGill, said, “Kip’s embarrassing lack of an update from CAMSR reflects what we have been saying – the Board is failing to take action. All that Kip was able to report was that they’ve had one meeting since winter semester. This is shameful considering we are asking them to take action on a very urgent issue – the climate crisis.”
In the same email, Emily Boytinck, Students’ Society of McGill University (SSMU) VP External and member of Divest McGill said, “Kip seemed pretty flustered when he truly had no progress to report on, other than that CAMSR had met and was going to meet again. He wouldn’t even address us directly. Perhaps he felt embarrassed, which is understandable since he is supposed to lead CAMSR as its interim chairperson.”
Speaking to The Daily, Cobbett said, “It’s very tough to give any realistic estimate. It’s a very comprehensive petition that Divest McGill submitted. It’s a lot of material in there. We’ve got to digest it. Once we’ve got the material digested, we’ve got to consider it and figure out what our recommendations are going to be.”
“I don’t think we’re late. And I’m not going to comment on anything to do with the petition until after CAMSR has considered it.”
Furthermore, when asked whether he saw the demonstration that took place outside of James Administration building before the meeting, Cobbett responded, “No.”