a, Opinion

Neither open, nor a forum

Voltaire, one of history’s finest satirists, once famously quipped that the Holy Roman Empire was “Neither holy, nor Roman, nor an empire.” It would be fitting to make a similar kind of observation about Dean Manfredi’s “Open Forum.”

With only around 30 people actually attending the first meeting—many of whom were there just to report on it—it seems more apt to call the event a seminar, or a conference at best. This may sound facetious, but my point is pressed home by Dean Manfredi himself. In an interview with the McGill Reporter, he described his chairmanship of the event as “similar to teaching a class,” and that it was, “my chance to actually go back to being a professor.” He even went so far as to declare that he “hope[s] to lead the discussion.” What could possibly sound more like a seminar?

And to claim that Dean Manfredi’s seminar—as it now should be called—was at least an open one is equally misleading. The first meeting was “open” at 4:00 on Thursday afternoon, March 1. Not only is this one of the busiest parts of many students’ weekly schedules (Thursday afternoon classes are some of the most popular courses), it is also scheduled right in the heart of the midterm exam period. Admittedly, there will be three more of Dean Manfredi’s seminars to participate in. But these are at equally inconvenient stages of the semester, dangerously close to essay deadlines and final exams (March 12, 27 and April 4). Dean Manfredi’s seminars are therefore out of reach for many students.

Now here’s the rub: this schedule clash was not unavoidable. The Jutras report, the administration’s inquiry into the events of Nov. 10, recommended these student consultations back in mid-December last year—almost four months ago now. Why did the administration wait until such a busy time to stage Dean Manfredi’s seminars? And more worryingly, it is striking to point out that the Open Forum was meant to be the opportunity for students to have a say in what the university’s rules were going to be concerning their rights to free expression and peaceful protest; instead, the administration went ahead without any attempt at consultation, devising a provisional protocol which effectively allows the administration to break up any protest that “impedes the conduct of university activities.” In other words, the provisional protocol allows the administration to break up almost any protest.

It is consequently no mystery why there was such a low attendance at Dean Manfredi’s closed seminar: there was simply no incentive. The provisional protocol will stay in effect for the rest of the year. It may be debated, certainly, but the only chance of it changing is when Manfredi eventually publishes his report in several months’ time (next Oct 8). 

It would therefore not be too much of an exaggeration to say that even the blindly optimistic Dr. Pangloss, Voltaire’s most farcical of characters, would express a certain degree of skepticism about anyone attempting, with a straight face, to call Dean Manfredi’s seminar an “Open Forum.”

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