Student-run clubs at the university with the word “McGill” in their names have faced increasing difficulties this academic year after fears of liability issues arose within the administration.
When the McGill name is used in a club title, the administration has argued, it implies that the university-and not the students who run the club-are providing the service.
In order to preempt any future liability issues, the administration has asked that student clubs change their names so that it is clear that their services are provided by the students and not the university.
In a meeting between Deputy Provost (Student Life & Learning) Morton Mendelson and the McGill First Aid Service (MFAS), Mendelson asserted that this new policy was non-negotiable.
“The university really has to control the use of its name, [our] main issue is to ensure the integrity of the name and the logo,” said Mendelson.
According to Student’s Society Vice-President Clubs and Services Anushay Khan, however, student clubs are all under SSMU’s umbrella. If a liability issue arose, she said, SSMU, not the university, would be held accountable.
The concern over the use of the McGill name in club titles has been a recurring issue on campus for years. In the past, a selection process was used in order to determine which clubs were allowed to use the McGill name.
“One of the things that has happened over the years is that there are a number of groups that have used the McGill name in such a way that can create confusion in the public about whether or not it is a student group offering a service, or the university,” said Mendelson.
According to SSMU President Zach Newburgh, however, the criteria by which the administration judges whether or not a club can use the McGill name has not been made public.
“This is one of the many things that hurts the relationship [and] creates tension between the administration and the students of the university,” Newburgh said.
“Often the administration makes a distinction between the university and [the] students,” Khan added. “But aren’t the students part of the university? Don’t they actually make up the university? Because without students there would be no university.”
Khan believes that the sense of community that students should feel towards their university is being taken away with this new policy.
“I understand [McGill’s] concern,” she said. “[But] if you are going to use ‘student’ and ‘liability’ in the same sentence, I think that’s a problem.”
Mendelson said that the problem will not arise in certain cases like the McGill Debating Club, since “everyone knows that it is students from the university.” But it could create confusion in other clubs if it is not clear that it is student-run.
“There’s a certain amount of clarity we are asking for,” he added.
Khan claimed that some of the services provided by clubs have been beneficial for the university community.
“The reason why SSMU services are so important is because we are filling a gap that student services at McGill do not provide, like a sexual assault center, first aid, Walksafe, and DriveSafe,” said Khan.
This point is well illustrated by MFAS, which the administration recently instructed to change its name. When there is a problem on campus, Khan said, MFAS responds immediately, sometimes faster than McGill Security.
“MFAS is the largest provider of English-language first aid courses in Montreal,” said MFAS director Nicole Edwards. If MFAS does not cooperate with this new policy, however, they may not be able to expand their services.
“It is really frustrating because we have been trying to go campus-wide, and this is the one thing that’s preventing us,” she said. “If it would make our lives easier I would change our name and move forward, but [this situation is] bigger than us.”
At the moment, SSMU is in the process of renegotiating their memorandum of agreement with McGill. Until that is finished, student clubs are at a standstill.
“If we did have to change our name, it would cost a lot of money to change our uniforms and our equipment,” said Edwards. “We have a contract with the Red Cross [that] we would have to change because we teach courses for them.”
MFAS and TVMcGill are among the clubs affected by the new policy change. Newburgh believes clubs that are “often in the public eye” will be most affected by the change.
“Together with the students that are going to be impacted by this, we can stand together and tell the administration, ‘No, this is not acceptable'” said Newburgh. “The students are what make this school what it is.”