Three years ago, Student Accessibility and Achievement (SAA) transformed the note-taking role from a paid to a voluntary position. Note-takers are students who provide their notes to other students registered with the SAA. Since the change, many students registered for the SAA’s note-taking accommodation and note-takers themselves have been disappointed with how the service is run. The McGill Tribune looked into how the service functions and the Association of Graduate Students Employed at McGill (AGSEM)’s fight to unionize note-takers and secure fair compensation.
Note-sharing is a service provided by the SAA, formerly known as the Office for Students with Disabilities. Students with disabilities can obtain class notes from other students registered in the same course who sign up with the SAA to provide detailed, high-quality notes. In exchange for their services, note-providers now get volunteer hours added to their Co-Curricular Record and are entered into a raffle to win a $50 gift card to a McGill service, such as Le James Bookstore or the McGill Gym.
Teri Philips, SAA Director of Communications, believes that the accessibility of the note-sharing program has not been affected by the switch to a volunteer-based service.
“Student Accessibility & Achievement ensures that its resources provide the best possible across-the-board support for students with disabilities, and we have seen from our peer institutions that a non-financially driven volunteer model works for notes,” Philips told the Tribune in a written statement. “The change in monetary recognition was frustrating for some students, but those resources are now being redirected to a wider range of supports for students with disabilities [such as] a new platform [Clockwork] making it easier for students to request and manage their supports and accommodations.”
For some note-providers, the change disincentivized them from continuing to share notes. In an email to the Tribune, former note-taker Natalia Savkovic, BA ‘21, explained that she stopped participating once SAA stopped paying note-takers.
“Personally, I no longer wanted to be a note-taker after they implemented the change. I knew the workload, and it didn’t seem fair for it to be essentially a volunteer position,” Savkovic wrote. “For me [note taking] meant spending an hour or two after every class ensuring that I had all the information and that it was represented well.”
Noor Jetha, U2 Engineering, who relies on the note-sharing service, has not found any note-takers to assist her since she registered with the SAA in Fall 2021. Jetha explained in an interview with the Tribune that she has had to find other ways to access notes, including asking friends and posting requests on various social media platforms.
“It was incredibly difficult to find a note-taker, even when they were paid. And now that they are not paid, it is virtually impossible,” Jetha said.
When she was first accepted to both Concordia and McGill, Jetha was told that the student services at both universities were of the same quality, so she chose McGill. However, after reaching out to her friends at Concordia, she found out that they were all immediately assigned note-takers who were financially compensated. Jetha told the Tribune that she regrets her choice to attend McGill.
AGSEM has been trying to unionize note-providers since 2020 and has repeatedly requested a list of all the note-takers at McGill. Yet, AGSEM President Mario Roy told the Tribune that McGill has curtailed its efforts.
“McGill has done everything possible to slow down the process by providing a list of note-takers, which we consider incorrect, and created long delays in their response,” Roy said. “The university is primarily responsible for giving quality education to their students, so they should provide good tools to the workers and people at the university in order to succeed. That includes paying part-time academic workers for all tasks, including note-takers.”
Roy stated that AGSEM will not stop fighting until all academic workers are unionized, and that the union invites people to join the movement and mobilize against the university for fair wages.