There is a brand new committee at McGill: the Student Consultation and Communication Work Group. Created by Deputy Provost (Student Life and Learning) Morton Mendelson, the group’s mandate is to “broadly consider, and make recommendations about, the methods used to consult and communicate with our students.” At least in part a response to the furor over the Architecture Café closure, the committee may fall short of many students’ hopes for a quick reopening. As a reply to broader demands for student consultation, though, the work group is a hard-won victory that gives reason for at least cautious optimism.
The caution is due to a healthy dose of past experience. The memorandum on the workgroup cites “a number of recent issues” indicating the need for student consultation. It is safe to say that the closure of the Architecture Café was one of these issues, yet after two months of silence, this is the administration’s first signal that they even know students are upset. Lumping the café in with other issues allows the administration to skirt some of the difficult questions that have been asked about the closure, most notably regarding the still-hidden finances. In that sense, the broad mandate feels like something the administration would develop if they were merely looking to redirect student energies.
On the other hand, it is significant that student efforts have reached the point where the administration feels that energy needs to be redirected. Until now, administrators have merely ignored the students, who they assumed, incorrectly, would take blatantly hostile gestures in stride. That they are interested in even the appearance of consultation is a step in the right direction.
It is also exactly what protestors asked for. Through all the opinion pieces in the campus press and the chants at both rallies, students made it clear that they were not just upset about the café being closed. They repeatedly argued that the issue is much larger, a procedural problem rather than a merely topical one. In that sense, the administration is directly acceding to the demands of students, a victory of which we should all be proud. The administration has its own pride to maintain and its own reasons for acting, and to think that it would cede entirely to student demands is unreasonable. As far as compromises go, this one’s not bad.
What is most important about the proposed committee is its potential. On the one hand, it has the potential be completely irrelevant. On the other hand, it has the potential to become a real tool for student representation. The committee will present its findings in December, but there is time before then to contact SSMU representatives and let them know what messages you want to deliver to the administration. If we don’t tell either the Students’ Society or the administration what we specifically want, we can hardly blame them for not knowing. The consultation committee is reason for cautious optimism. Now it’s up to students to seize the opportunity and make it effective.