Tribune Explains: Students’ rights

McGill is a school with a massive student population as well as a reputation for thrusting independence upon its first year students, both factors which can lead to an alienating experience. For this reason, clear information becomes an invaluable commodity for all students. This week The McGill Tribune spoke with the student members behind the Student Society of McGill University’s (SSMU) “Know Your Student Rights” campaign, in hopes of helping students to advocate for themselves.

How are student rights protected?

Student rights at McGill can be divided into two domains: Academic rights, which ensures that professors fairly assess their students’ work, and personal rights, which guard students’ dignity and security. Many of these rights come from policies and regulations developed by McGill’s Board of Governors and Senate. However, as SSMU Vice-President (VP) University Affairs Madeline Wilson explained, it’s SSMU’s responsibility to ensure students are prepared to assert their rights. 

“Students come to this university for academics, and therefore, its [in] their best interest to ensure that their academic situation is as equal and as equitable as possible,” Wilson said. “This campaign ensures that students have the tools to make sure that they are able to defend their own rights if they need to, or to help them reach out to someone that is more equipped to fight for their rights alongside them.”

How does fair grading work at McGill?

McGill’s Charter of Student Rights affirms that all students have the right to a quality education, including a right to be assessed in an equitable and reasonable way. This right is implemented through the University Student Assessment Policy, which protects any student that receives any form of assessment. During the first week of classes, professors should have given students syllabi for all of their courses stating how they were going to be assessed (e.g. whether there will be a final or a class participation component), and how these assessments will be weighed when calculating their overall grade. Students also cannot be punished for worked they missed during add-drop if they were not registered in the course at the assessment’s due date. Finally, students cannot be forced into writing multiple final exams within a short time span: For example, students cannot write four finals in two days. These rights are afforded to all students; in return, students have to uphold certain responsibilities, one of them being to uphold academic integrity by avoiding plagiarism or cheating.

How are student’s personal rights protected?

The charter also states that students have the right to be protected against ‘vexatious conduct’ displayed by McGill members. Therefore, McGill and SSMU have implemented policies that both protect students against violence and punish McGill community members who perpetrate these acts. In the past year, two new policies focused  sexual violence on campus have been put into place: SSMU’s Gendered and Sexual Violence Policy (GSVP), and McGill’s revamped Policy Against Sexual Violence (PSV). Wilson says that these two policies work together to protect survivors across different situations.

“The [PSV] covers [anyone] at McGill or within the McGill context,” Wilson said. “For example, if a McGill student is a respondent, and they’re on a co-op, and survivor is a [Concordia University] student, the respondent can still be charged under the policy. The SSMU GSVP operates within the SSMU context […] it covers executives, casual and permanent staff, and members of SSMU clubs or independent student groups. There are instances where a report can be filed under both the GSVP and the PSV.”

Where do students go if they believe their rights have been violated?

Adrienne Tessier, SSMU’s students’ rights researcher and advocacy commissioner, said that students can contact three individuals if they have questions about their rights. 

“You have myself, as the Students’ Rights Commissioner [as a contact] for issues on academic rights,” Tessier said. “For example, ‘my professor posted my syllabus and it doesn’t say what percentage my final is.’ Then we have an anti-violence commissioner, who you can contact if you have questions about your personal rights under the [GSVP]. Both of us work in collaboration with [Wilson], who can intervene and act as another layer of support for students.”

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