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Surviving McGill, From Student to Student

University practices. student rights. and navigating the space in between

Through orientation activities, emails from the Provost, and the circle of McGill web pages, students can become well acquainted with admin-approved tips and tricks. There’s another side to McGill though, once the novelty of a fresh year wears off, and the university proves its notorious “no hand- holding” reputation. Here’s a guide from a disillusioned student: a guide to self-advocacy, empowerment, and survival, practices that sometimes go against McGill’s interests. The information isn’t a secret, but comes from experience and patience reading the jargon of policies.

1. Students have a right to see their marks for assessments.

This right is laid out clearly in the Charter of Student Rights, a document that every student should get well acquainted with. It can be found in the “Policies on Student Rights and Responsibilities” section on the “Student Rights and Responsibilities” web page. Note that there are some caveats to this right. The Charter states, “Students have a right to consult any written submission for which they have received a mark… provided the request is made within a reasonable time after notification of the grade, and subject to reasonable administrative arrangements.” So if you’re looking to review an assessment, be prompt with your request. Note that you also have the right to an “impartial and competent review of any mark”, with the same limitations.

2. Security guards at McGill don’t have the authority to detain you.

Quebec has a rich history of student protests. In 2012, Canada had the longest student strike in history when Quebec students fought against increases in tuition. The right to peaceful demonstration is fundamental. However, direct action can create clashes between students and security personnel. It’s important to know that the power of security versus police officers are different; security personnel can only touch you in situations of self-defense and are constrained by the same laws as any citizen. Otherwise, physical contact is considered assault. Furthermore, you can report inappropriate conduct by security personnel to the Bureau de la Sécurité Privée. That being said, disciplinary action can be taken against you if you are identified as violating the Code of Student Conduct.

3. The Office for Sexual Violence Response, Support,and Education (OSVRSE) can be hard to get hold of.

McGill likes to show off OSVRSE, but it’s not always accessible to students. Last year, it closed without warning due to staffing issues. At the time of writing, there are only two days in September to book appointments — there are two time slots on the 20th and the 26th. You’re not able to view times in October. The SSMU service SACOMSS is an alternative to OSVRSE in that it also acts to serve survivors of sexual violence. They’re easier to get timely support from. If you’re looking to bypass intermediaries, you can also report directly to the Office for Mediation and Reporting, which does have reasonable appointment availability.

4. Not all medical professionals can provide sufficient documentation to the Student Accessibility and Achievement (SAA) office.

To register with the SAA, you need documentation that includes a diagnosis. Not all providers can give adequate documentation. According to their website, the medical professional must be recognized by the PL-21. The guide linked on the SAA website is in French. A report on the SAA, conducted by a special researcher hired by SSMU, has other complaints about the service: respondents said they were given incorrect exam information and didn’t like how the SAA only provides the exam location and specific time a day in advance.

5. Choose your classes based on the syllabus, not just the content.

The policies in a syllabus can reveal your professor’s attitudes about student rights, disability, and the kindness they think students deserve. Even if you’re not disabled, and don’t anticipate needing accommodations, life circumstances can change suddenly, so it’s in your best interest to favour classes with a professor who’s not uncompromising. Red flags on a syllabus include not accepting late work, mandatory attendance, and needing to buy an expensive textbook, especially one written by the professors themselves (shout-out to Prof. Vybihal).

6. There are several resources for complaints involving McGill.

Issues with your professor can be brought to the chair or director of your “academic unit”, according to a graphic on the “Resolving Disputes” section of the “Student Rights and Responsibilities’’ page. Next, you can contact the director or associate dean in your faculty Student Affairs Office. There’s also the Ombudsperson for Students — this is an office dedicated to giving information about navigating McGill and resolving grievances. If none of these paths lead to a satisfying conclusion, you can write to the chair of the Committee on Student Grievances. It’s worth noting that the information provided by McGill is far from comprehensive — a sentence on the bottom of the page says the website is “intended as an informal, unofficial guide”. It then refers you to a link titled, “The Handbook on Student Rights and Responsibilities” which brings you to a page of links that doesn’t include the Handbook, which was published in 2007.

7. If you’re a worker at McGill, you’re probably part of a union.

There are 14 unions at McGill, and two non-unionized associations. These groups represent floor-fellows, invigilators, support staff, teaching assistants, and more. Even if you’re not employed by McGill, everyone is affected by the quality of work conditions experienced by staff. It’s good to have these groups on your radar, especially when they are negotiating their collective agreement with McGill and could benefit from the support of the broader community.