An open letter published in The McGill Daily on April 5 endorsed the Students’ Society of McGill University’s (SSMU) adoption of the Palestine Solidarity Policy. The letter, titled “Support SSMU and the Palestine Solidarity Policy,” was signed by 103 McGill faculty and staff members. It came after an email from the McGill administration that publicly denounced the Policy and threatened to terminate its Memorandum of Agreement (MOA) with the SSMU on March 24. In a statement released on April 22, SSMU announced that it would not be ratifying the Policy, as the SSMU Board of Directors determined that it goes against its constitution, Equity Policy, a 2016 Judicial Board ruling, and Quebec law.
In the open letter, professors and staff applauded the work of Solidarity for Palestinian Human Rights McGill (SPHR) in creating the Palestine Solidarity Policy and students for passing it with a 71.1 per cent majority. The letter also stressed the importance of maintaining independent democratic channels, such as SSMU referenda, for students to push for meaningful change on campus.
Michelle Hartman, professor of Arabic Literature at the Institute of Islamic Studies, told The McGill Tribune in an email that she believes it is important for faculty to support students when the administration attempts to suppress student political activism.
“The attempt to shut down a student union policy like this by a university administration runs against everything a university is meant to do and stand for,” Hartman wrote. “So many professors that I spoke to were outraged about how the university administration responded in such a threatening and heavy-handed way to a student initiative—especially something that is standing for social justice. I find it egregious that the administration would try to shut down students engaging in activism and solidarity on one of the most pressing and urgent causes of our time.”
Associate professor of political science William Clare Roberts echoed Hartman’s sentiment—he feels the university’s threat to terminate its MOA with SSMU goes against its commitment to collegial governance. Roberts also noted the importance of showing solidarity with Palestinian people.
“I’m incredibly proud of the students who brought the resolution to the student body, and of the voters for passing it by such a large margin,” Roberts wrote in an email to the Tribune. “Solidarity with the Palestinian people, and efforts to address their displacement and dispossession by Israel’s apartheid policies, are morally and politically righteous. In no other case are invasion, occupation, and oppression so protected from criticism and opposition. No one can deny that Israeli policy is unjust, but the demand to do something about it, to withhold support and cooperation from universities and corporations that collaborate, is always greeted by hysterical reactions.”
In an email statement to the Tribune, SPHR said that support from faculty and staff helped keep the Palestine Solidarity Policy relevant. They also commended students’ efforts to promote social justice and human rights.
“[Support from faculty and staff] shows the administration that we are not alone in our indignation towards their threats,” the group wrote. “It moreover demonstrates to the majority of McGill students, who demonstrated their support for the Palestinian liberation struggle in the Winter referendum, that they are supported by academics and professors.”
In an email to the Tribune, McGill media relations officer Frédérique Mazerolle reiterated the administration’s stance that the Policy is at odds with McGill’s mission of inclusivity.
“Robust debate is key to what we do and who we are as a university,” Mazerolle wrote. “But such debate cannot be carried out at the expense of respect and inclusion. Initiatives that create excessive polarization in our community and encourage a culture of ostracization due to students’ identities, religious or political beliefs, are in contradiction with the university’s values of inclusion, diversity, and respect.”