McGill’s Office for Students with Disabilities (OSD) is responsible for facilitating wider access to learning and providing adequate resources for all students. To this end, one of the services offered by the OSD is providing notes for students who may be unable to take their own. Note-takers are tasked with taking, organizing, and uploading legible notes for students who are registered with the OSD. Compensation for the work done by note-takers has steadily decreased, and now, it is a volunteer position. By removing incentives for students to become note-takers, the OSD is extending a pattern of unpaid student labour at McGill and betraying their responsibility to those who need their services by potentially degrading the help they receive.
On Sept. 19, all students in classes in need of note-takers received an email which stated that note-taking is now a volunteer position that offers 10 volunteer hours on student’s co-curricular record and a chance to win a $50 gift card. Students know that they are doing work worthy of compensation, because previous note-takers received payment, and by removing this, the OSD is depreciating the work that students dedicate. The main concern other than lack of participation is the quality of the notes: The same quality of notes cannot be expected for a position that is now unpaid. The OSD has maintained their screening process, but the quality anticipated should be very different now that there is no compensation. If the overall quality of notes for students with disabilities decreases due to the lack of compensation, this falls directly on the shoulders of the OSD.
“By removing incentives for students to become note-takers, the OSD is extending a pattern of unpaid student labour at McGill and betraying their responsibility to those who need their services by potentially degrading the help they receive.”
The work done by note-takers has been overlooked for years. In the 2018-2019 academic year, the OSD paid students either $100 or $50 per class per semester, depending on the class and the term. To put that into perspective, most McGill classes take three hours per week, and in a semester, there are about 36 class hours. If note-takers were paid the Quebec minimum wage of $12.50 for those class hours, not including out-of-class time spent organizing notes, they would receive $450 in compensation. Besides the already inadequate pay, Reddit users identifying as note-takers have complained of inconsistency as well as poor communication from the OSD. Reported incidents on Reddit include allegedly forgotten or incomplete payments. There have even been multiple accounts of people graduating, moving out of Montreal, but still not receiving payment. Despite all of these experiences, students be note-takers for a variety of reasons: It may have incentivized them to go to class or they wanted to help their fellow students.
“If note-takers were paid the Quebec minimum wage of $12.50 for those class hours, not including out-of-class time spent organizing notes, they would receive $450 in compensation.”
McGill overlooking student labour is not new. In 2018, social work students participated in a strike against the required 800 hours of unpaid field placement work worth three credits per year. Other than having their protests called premature by Quebec Education Minister Jean Francois Roberge, social work students did not see any real action from McGill. Lack of funding has also been an issue for the OSD. In 2015, McGill became responsible for funding OSD as opposed to the Québec government who had previously been doing so. OSD director, Teri Philips, stated in 2017 that some services were hampered due to new financial restrictions. This funding issue could easily be a belated effect of the switch between the government and McGill.
Students deserve compensation for the work they are doing, no matter the reason behind it By taking away any monetary incentive, the OSD is doing a disservice to those in need of note-takers by removing incentives for high-quality notes. Beyond the OSD itself, McGill needs to reallocate their resources and ensure that they are not disadvantaging students registered with the OSD.