The McGill administration announced on Nov. 1 that its Emergency Operations Centre (EOC), the administrative body coordinating the university’s COVID-19 response, had been deactivated. The announcement, sent in a university-wide email, explained that the university is officially transitioning to a “recovery and resumption” response, with all COVID-19 matters now to be headed by the new Recovery and Operations Resumption Committee (ROR).
The McGill administration cited the community’s high vaccination rates as well as the Quebec government’s recent announcement that it expects to end the province’s state of emergency in early 2022, as contributing factors behind the decision to transition from the EOC to the ROR.
In an email to The McGill Tribune, Frédérique Mazerolle, a McGill media relations officer, explained that the “recovery and resumption” transition would transfer all COVID-19 matters under the university’s pre-pandemic administrative structure. Mazerolle stressed that the transition from the EOC to the ROC signals a step toward a post-pandemic environment.
“This new structure was chosen to better align with the university’s day-to-day governance structure and allow for a smoother transition to regular governance processes as the pandemic continues to evolve in the coming months,” Mazerolle wrote. “We do […] feel confident that we have reached a point where we can shift our focus from emergency response to recovery planning.”
The EOC, composed of senior administration officials with expertise in emergency planning, had been coordinating McGill’s COVID-19 response since January 2020. The COVID-19 pandemic is the longest crisis the EOC has dealt with; previously, it had only dealt with crises lasting mere days or weeks.
However, many members of the McGill community questioned the implementation of the EOC for the COVID-19 pandemic when it was initially being rolled out. Richard Gold, a professor in the Faculty of Law, criticized the administration for its lack of transparency and engagement with the wider community in its operations.
In a statement to the Tribune, Gold welcomed the deactivation of the EOC, arguing that while the members of the EOC may have been diligent in their planning, they did not have adequate knowledge on medical or legal affairs to make COVID-19 related decisions—and that they “refused to listen to experts at McGill who did.”
“[The EOC] provided the administration an excuse to take on powers that it does not rightfully have under McGill’s statutes and regulations,” Gold wrote. “The administration ruled by edict during the pandemic, failing to engage the campus and to be transparent as to the reasons for its actions [….] I hope that the ending of the emergency response signals a return to collegial governance, which has been suspended since spring 2020, and an actual engagement with campus.”
Arts Undergraduate Society (AUS) vice-president (VP) Social Affairs Sam Baron also expressed relief in not having to go through the EOC to get approval for community events, citing communication issues with the EOC when he was planning for Frosh 2021 .
“I, frankly, thought it was ridiculous that a fully anonymous body had the final say in almost all decisions made on campus,” Baron wrote in a statement to the Tribune. “Every time I wanted to get something done, I had to ask the EOC for permission. They clearly had too much on their plates to deal with, as I know that my emails to them […] went unanswered for weeks or months at a time.”
SSMU VP Internal Sarah Paulin also pointed out the administration’s lack of engagement with students and faculty in the decision-making around COVID-19 protocol. However, Paulin questioned the university’s decision to end the emergency response.
“I think the decision was very rushed,” Paulin said in an interview with the Tribune. “It would have been nice to have seen more prudence from the university [….] Especially since they have provided very little support for faculty and students who have felt unsafe with the way the university is currently operating. [The administration is] very set in their ways.”