On Nov. 14, McGill University held its annual Senate and Board of Governors joint meeting, bringing together the university’s highest academic and financial administrative bodies, respectively. Each year, the two bodies convene to discuss a topic that relates to the university’s mission; I attended as an undergraduate senator from the Faculty of Arts. This year’s topic: How McGill could transform itself for a world of lifelong learning. If these sound like buzzwords, that’s because they are. As a concept, lifelong learning is broad, however, during the Joint Board-Senate meeting, it was often interpreted as the development of critical thinking skills and emotional intelligence that students carry with them for the rest of their lives. As noted by the many attendees, the world is changing rapidly, and its future depends on individuals’ ability to challenge norms and predict innovative solutions to unpredictable problems. The consensus of the meeting was that McGill needs to work harder to help students develop these lifelong skills.
As a student and member of the McGill Senate, I find it hypocritical that the university is apparently so eager to help students challenge societal norms through innovative ideas, yet the minute these students’ ideas challenge the university’s norms, they are met with skepticism or aggressively avoided. Student-led movements like #ChangeTheName and divestment are progressive ideas that question McGill’s current mode of operation and its governing procedures, but the administration’s responses to both have been lacking.
Despite the Senate’s Sept. 12 endorsement of divestment, the Board of Governors declined to call a conference committee with the Senate as required by the University Statutes. Instead, they chose not to vote on the matter of divestment, pointing to a semantic distinction in the motion that passed at Senate to indicate that there was no technical ‘disagreement.’ Climate change will not wait for the Committee to Advise on Matters of Social Responsibility (CAMSR) to finish deliberating. Similarly, when the Call to Action 21 of the 2017 Task Force on Indigenous Studies and Indigenous Education advised McGill to begin the process of changing their men’s varsity team name, the university postponed a decision until the report of the Working Group on the Principles of Commemoration and Renaming comes out at the end of 2018. A true commitment to lifelong learning should involve recognizing the innovation behind these movements and effective engagement with student activism and concerns.
As I was walking out of the meeting, I overheard an attendee say that they were disappointed with the roundtable groups’ lack of suggestions for immediate action to transform McGill for a world of lifelong learning. Admittedly, I found this amusing. Attendees suggested plenty of immediate actions, but they never made it past the brainstorming phase. I even articulated to my discussion table that there is no a lack of student innovation, but a lack of administrative action. However, I was dismissed.
If McGill continues to consistently ignore students’ efforts to engage in critical thinking and innovation, students will be discouraged from using these skills to affect change outside the university. Adapting to a world of lifelong learning does not just mean increasing external partnerships, such as exchange programs and job training, as suggested by attendees of the Joint Board-Senate meeting. To prove their commitment to lifelong learning, McGill must listen to its community. True progress doesn’t happen in roundtable meetings at the Faculty Club. It happens through sit-ins, open letters, and student consultations. So far, the university administration has shown that it is ready to change others, but it is evident that they are not yet prepared to change themselves.