Senate discusses free speech and naming policies

McGill’s Senate convened for the third time this academic year on Nov. 20 to discuss the lack of policies in place for screening external organizations that use McGill facilities, the naming of university assets, and the future of international diversity on campus.  

Students’ Society of McGill University (SSMU) Vice-President (VP) University Affairs Madeline Wilson confronted Provost and Vice-Principal (Academic) Christopher Manfredi about the university’s attitude towards external organizations being permitted to utilize McGill facilities. McGill currently has no official policy to screen organizations seeking to use university venues. Wilson expressed concern that members of the community may feel offended or denigrated by the presence of certain organizations or individuals on campus.

In response to a question by Wilson, Manfredi defended the right for free speech, even when it may offend certain students.

“McGill’s recognition of the rights of individuals and groups to express views that may be perceived by some as [harmful] or offensive does not derogate from its overarching commitment to equity, diversity, and inclusion on our campus,” Manfredi said. “It would be very dangerous for the university to try to implement a policy that put prior restraint on freedom of expression, academic freedom, and the very purpose of the university.” 

The Senate also discussed the future of international diversity at McGill. Senators expressed concerns about a lack of funding for international research projects and the need to further promote McGill globally. Arts Senator Henrique Mecabô addressed the recent increase in international student tuition, which have posed a financial challenge for some students, and questioned how the university plans to attract top international talent given the additional financial barriers. The administration responded that they are trying the best they can to ensure accessibility for international students despite recent cuts in government funding.

Vice-Principal of University Advancement Marc Weinstein concluded the meeting by presenting proposed revisions to the university’s policy for the naming of assets, including buildings, and scholarships. The urgency for a revised policy was heightened by the launch of the “Made by McGill” campaign, creating the expectation of many large donations, each with a naming opportunity.  The new policy clearly outlines the protocol for naming assets and is based on the policies of other North American academic institutions. Senators were concerned that naming assets after individuals with poor reputations would reflect badly on the university.

“We use due diligence when naming assets […] to make sure that the individual has a ‘clean bill of health,’ if I can put it that way,” Weinstein said.

Soundbite: 

“I think that the reason why, at this university, we keep asking this question about international tuition is because, at least in my perspective as a student and speaking for myself, I felt that the administration is a bit tone-deaf when talking about this. All we hear is McGill is getting more money but there is never really a recognition of the fact that it is costing students more money.” Senator Madeline Wilson, SSMU VP University Affairs

Flashback: 

Principal Vice-Chancellor Suzanne Fortier stated that the university has reached out to all 22 McGill students currently on exchange in Hong Kong and ensured that they are safe amit widespread political unrest in the area. Some students have decided to stay in Hong Kong, while others are returning to Montreal. Fortier also assured that McGill is maintaining regular contact with their host institutions.

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