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McGill Board of Governors member resigns in protest of the board’s refusal to table a motion on equity

Former McGill University Board of Governors (BoG) member Ehab Lotayef has resigned from his position as governor over the BoG’s refusal to table a motion that would mandate McGill to create and display an equity statement on campus. Lotayef wrote about his resignation and his experience sitting on the board for three years in an open letter published May 7.

The motion, proposed by the Senate Subcommittee on Racialized and Ethnic Persons (REP), would have mandated McGill to display a statement expressing both a commitment to equity and an acknowledgement of the university’s ties to enslavement and colonialism on campus. The statement was endorsed by 14 McGill groups, including the Students’ Society of McGill University (SSMU) and the Post-Graduate Students’ Society of McGill University (PGSS), and Professor Emeritus Charles Taylor.

In an interview with The McGill Tribune, Lotayef, IT and technical services manager in the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering, explained that the BoG’s refusal to consider the motion compelled him to resign.

“I tried to make it very clear that this is [not] an exchange about whether you like [the equity statement] or not,” Lotayef said. “The issue is tabling the motion is a process that you should just follow, and the response was a total refusal […] that left no room for me to make a point [other than] resigning.”

Beyond the handling of the equity motion, Lotayef felt that the BoG was sometimes intolerant to dissenting opinions.

“People on the board have three options,” Lotayef said. “Either to be quiet and happy and go with the flow set by the leadership, to stay on and continue to express your point of view, and that is very difficult to do within the environment, or to take a position and resign.”

Lotayef said he encountered other issues during his time as governor, such as not being granted spots on committees in which he felt he had expertise. Lotayef, who joined the board to offer his perspective as a McGill staff member and community activist, affirmed that he would continue advocating for divestment and diversity, among other issues, despite his resignation.

“I have been an activist inside and outside McGill for decades,” Lotayef said. “Being on the board was a means, not a goal, in itself. There are always means to get voices heard and to raise up issues, so this is just a step in one direction or the other. It does not mean that I am going to change my commitment in any way.”

In response to Lotayef’s resignation, Frédérique Mazerolle, a McGill media relations officer, pointed to McGill’s current equity efforts.

“The board appreciates expression of commitment towards the principles of [Equity, Diversity and Inclusion] (EDI) by any member or group of the McGill community as progress in these areas requires the engagement of the whole community,” Mazerolle wrote in an email to the Tribune. “There are many ways to express this commitment which do not necessitate [the presentation of] a motion to the board, particularly as these principles have been approved by the board and Senate over five years ago and reinforced through the endorsement of an EDI strategy.”

In an email to the Tribune, Fanta Ly, co-president of the Black Law Students’ Association of McGill—a group that endorsed the equity motion—felt that McGill’s current EDI framework is still not enacting substantive change.

“It is troubling that the highest governing body of a university that continues to document its failure to provide a dignified educational and work environment to underrepresented groups displays so brazenly its disinterest and lack of commitment to transformative equity work,” Ly wrote. “McGill administrators have made it clear that they will not commit to meaningful equity work. To maintain the status quo, they have ensured that only white faces with no vested interests in structural change occupy transformational administrative spaces.”

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