Consultation in name only at the joint Board-Senate meeting

On Nov. 14, McGill University held its annual Senate and Board of Governors joint meeting, bringing together the university’s highest academic and financial administrative bodies, respectively. Each year, the two bodies convene to discuss a topic that relates to the university’s mission; I attended as an undergraduate senator from the Faculty of Arts. This year’s topic: How McGill could transform itself for a world of lifelong learning. If these sound like buzzwords, that’s because they are. As a concept, lifelong learning is broad, however, during the Joint Board-Senate meeting, it was often interpreted as the development of critical thinking skills and emotional intelligence that students carry with them for the rest of their lives. As noted by the many attendees, the world is changing rapidly, and its future depends on individuals’ ability to challenge norms and predict innovative solutions to unpredictable problems. The consensus of the meeting was that McGill needs to work harder to help students develop these lifelong skills.

As a student and member of the McGill Senate, I find it hypocritical that the university is apparently so eager to help students challenge societal norms through innovative ideas, yet the minute these students’ ideas challenge the university’s norms, they are met with skepticism or aggressively avoided. Student-led movements like #ChangeTheName and divestment are progressive ideas that question McGill’s current mode of operation and its governing procedures, but the administration’s responses to both have been lacking.

Despite the Senate’s Sept. 12 endorsement of divestment, the Board of Governors declined to call  a conference committee with the Senate as required by the University Statutes. Instead, they chose not to vote on the matter of divestment, pointing to a semantic distinction in the motion that passed at Senate to indicate that there was no technical ‘disagreement.’ Climate change will not wait for the Committee to Advise on Matters of Social Responsibility (CAMSR) to finish deliberating. Similarly, when the Call to Action 21 of the 2017 Task Force on Indigenous Studies and Indigenous Education advised McGill to begin the process of changing their men’s varsity team name, the university postponed a decision until the report of the Working Group on the Principles of Commemoration and Renaming comes out at the end of 2018. A true commitment to lifelong learning should involve recognizing the innovation behind these movements and effective engagement with student activism and concerns.

As I was walking out of the meeting, I overheard an attendee say that they were disappointed with the roundtable groups’ lack of suggestions for immediate action to transform McGill for a world of lifelong learning. Admittedly, I found this amusing. Attendees suggested plenty of immediate actions, but they never made it past the brainstorming phase. I even articulated to my discussion table that there is no a lack of student innovation, but a lack of administrative action. However, I was dismissed.

If McGill continues to consistently ignore students’ efforts to engage in critical thinking and innovation, students will be discouraged from using these skills to affect change outside the university. Adapting to a world of lifelong learning does not just mean increasing external partnerships, such as exchange programs and job training, as suggested by attendees of the Joint Board-Senate meeting. To prove their commitment to lifelong learning, McGill must listen to its community. True progress doesn’t happen in roundtable meetings at the Faculty Club. It happens through sit-ins, open letters, and student consultations. So far, the university administration has shown that it is ready to change others, but it is evident that they are not yet prepared to change themselves.


  1. Saint Emerance

    “… the university postponed a decision
    until the report of the Working Group on the Principles of Commemoration
    and Renaming comes out at the end of 2018.”

    The implication here being that it is better to act immediately with minimal consultation and no agreed-upon principles or procedures, rather than taking the time to consult and deliberate so that decisions are as best-informed and defensible as they can be. Further proof that one can pour thousands of dollars and years of your life into a university and still have almost no idea what the place is even for.

    • Madeline Wilson

      Hi there. I am not advocating against consultation. Rather, I am arguing that the consultation has already occurred. The 2017 Provost’s Task Force on Indigenous Studies and Indigenous Education was the consultation. You can learn more about their mandate and consulting procedures on the Provost’s website. Overwhelmingly, members of the university community called for this change, and are still calling for this change. The university has chosen to misinterpret the call to action as recommending consultation on whether or not to change the name, not, as it actually recommends, consultation on how to go about changing the name.

      • Saint Emerance

        No. One was a recommendation to change a name, consulting a group were were invited to address a related but narrower topic, the other was a working group on principles of commemoration and renaming for the entire univeristy. As in, “we should take an action” followed by “how should we go about making this type of action is done right, consistently and equitably.” Decision and process. Two different things, the second of which is to avoid precipitate ad hoc actions that will be too easily challenged and reversed. Dotting i’s, crossing t’s.

        • Madeline Wilson

          I am not here to debate the order or purposes of processes and decisions. My article intends to highlight the hypocrisy between calling for innovation among students and blatantly stalling that innovation when students use it to challenge norms present in the university. There is no amount of consultation that will change the reality that the Redmen name is detrimental to the health and safety of Indigenous students, and that its removal will not negatively impact any other group to the same extent. If you wish to discuss aspects of my article further, please email me at [email protected]

          • It’s a shame you’re not here to debate the order or purposes of process and decisions, because I AM here to debate that.

            I can’t help but feel that not being willing to debate the order and purposes of decisions is a little like saying that you aren’t willing to defend your article, since your point is predicated on those processes being unnecessary delaying tactics rather than an attempt to respond to student demands with normal academic due diligence. The former interpretation depends on the folks running the university being conspirators determined to thwart students for unarticulated but presumably malign purposes, the latter depends on them being academics who aren’t particularly beholden to students’ time preferences. It’s a little theorem I call Occam’s bureaucrat.
            Since you went to some trouble to write down your opinions and have them published, I will
            decline your kind offer to express mine to you in private. It seems
            only fair. You are of course free to respond here, or not, as you see fit.

          • Ok

      • Bernard Petersen

        The 2017 Provost’s Task Force was far from a consultation. it was a highly biased, prejudiced and flawed process, particularly with respect to the “research” done regarding the name. There was no research. There were select snippets of the use of the name with negative indigenous connotations, so painfully obviously pre-determined and those were the justification for the report’s recommendation to change it. For an academic institution of McGill’s pedigree, the degree to which that section was researched was, to put it mildly, an embarrassment.

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