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Occupy McGill?
February 10, 2012 11:25 AM   Subscribe

On Tuesday, February 7th, twenty students forced their way into an administrative building at McGill University. Since then, they have been occupying the 6th floor of the building, despite power being cut and washroom facilities shut down. Their demands? Stable funding for two on-campus groups, and the resignation of Mort Mendelson, McGill's deputy provost for student life and learning. Not all students agree with their tactics.
posted by Premeditated Symmetry Breaking (42 comments total) 3 users marked this as a favorite

 
Yllas Freedperson? Damn SUBbies.

All student organizations need to have their funds cut if you ask me. Actual student support for most student organizations is slender.

Perhaps this is bitterness because student fees that funded such organizations were never covered under my RA stipend and so three times a year, at the beginning of each term, my salary was halved and I had to starve for a month to involuntarily support them.
posted by pseudonick at 11:43 AM on February 10, 2012 [2 favorites]


I'm glad this was posted: Icouldn't, because I know some of the faculty involved in organizing the occupation. I'll be interested to hear Metafilter's response.
posted by anotherpanacea at 11:46 AM on February 10, 2012


Apparently you can opt-out of supporting QPIRG.

I wish the University by me had the same option for their PIRG group.
posted by madajb at 11:47 AM on February 10, 2012


Expel them. And, shoot their laptops.
posted by quonsar II: smock fishpants and the temple of foon at 11:50 AM on February 10, 2012 [1 favorite]


I'm glad to see people fighting for what they believe in.
posted by Malice at 11:50 AM on February 10, 2012 [3 favorites]


Ugh, I go to McGill and it's a ridiculous situation. We have a TERRIBLE administration, but the occupation and demanding that a staff member to step down is a bit much.

That being said, it's probably the only way the university will listen...
posted by Strass at 11:55 AM on February 10, 2012


The group seems pretty poorly equipped for the long haul. They apparently didn't bring cell phone chargers, which has lead to communications problems, and they didn't back adequate supplies to be remotely self-sufficient. Also they are evidently smoking up there, to judge by the "food-and-cigarettes" resupply. Unless they're going out on the roof to smoke and carefully disposing of their butts, that's a major credibility hit from my perspective. Peaceful demonstrations shouldn't leave behind the stench of stale cigarette smoke.

I'd care more about the plight of student groups if they weren't supported by fees from other students, some of whom are either paying out of pocket or, worse, via student loans. In the US, student activity fees are basically regressive taxation. I'm not sure how the system works at McGill, though.

I also have a hard time supporting a self-interested demonstration like this. At my graduate school a group of undergraduate students occupied an administration building to protest for a living wage for service workers at the school. That's much more reasonable than something like this, which amounts to demanding that other students should be taxed to support a radio station they may not listen to and a political group they may disagree with.*

If the students really wanted to hit McGill where it hurts then they would transfer to another school and take their tuition dollars with them, preferably in the middle of the year so it takes longer to replace them with incoming transfers.

* There's no contradiction here with supporting taxpayer-supported media, since taxpayers have income and students typically don't.
posted by jedicus at 12:01 PM on February 10, 2012 [5 favorites]


I fully support this shift of the Overton Window.

"There is no such thing as a peaceful occupation" deserves to be a meme. I'll start with an image of Gandhi.
posted by DU at 12:02 PM on February 10, 2012 [2 favorites]


Showing 1 comment

Ethan Sawyer
To whatever extent this happy moderate group is hoping to effect change, they HAVE to understand that the space to do that was OPENED UP FOR THEM BY the sixth-floor occupiers. Without a radical left there is no middle-left.

posted by Obscure Reference at 12:02 PM on February 10, 2012 [4 favorites]


Meh. Students in Quebec have a sense of entitlement that is truly astonishing; we have some of the best and cheapest post-secondary education available in North America, yet that is not enough. It's never enough.
posted by Vindaloo at 12:06 PM on February 10, 2012 [3 favorites]


Not all students agree with their tactics.

They're parasitic. They fail to recognize that it took a protest to get others to speak up. That is irrational. The interview uses othering language to separate himself and the "moderate" majority from the protestors. That is utterly weak.
posted by polymodus at 12:07 PM on February 10, 2012


Their demands? Stable funding for two on-campus groups

Well, not exactly. If you click through a few links you find that they tried to bundle the referendum question on the existence of their groups with a provision that would make it much harder for people to opt out. The administration was given no notice of this wording, so they wouldn't accept the results. (Geez, is this a metaphor for Canadian politics or what? Can't win an honest referendum question? Obfuscate!) And good for the administration - forcing students to subsidize highly politicized speech and advocacy they disagree with is objectionable.
posted by Dasein at 12:26 PM on February 10, 2012 [1 favorite]


Without a radical left there is no middle-left.

Does that mean that that the radical left itself doesn't exist unless there is some kind of ultra-radical left? I never understand this line of reasoning. If the radical left can exist simply because it exists, then so can any other political position. You just end up rearranging the labels.
posted by the jam at 12:30 PM on February 10, 2012 [9 favorites]


And good for the administration - forcing students to subsidize highly politicized speech and advocacy they disagree with is objectionable.

That isn't necessarily what it sounds like on the surface.

Public funding for research and advocacy groups isn't a bad thing, it allows them to operate without having to either A: be profitable or B: rely on donations from private parties. That's necessary if you want to actually operate in a free and unbiased manner. Universities have historically tried to foster a supportive environment for independent research and advocacy.
posted by Stagger Lee at 12:34 PM on February 10, 2012


Does that mean that that the radical left itself doesn't exist unless there is some kind of ultra-radical left? I never understand this line of reasoning. If the radical left can exist simply because it exists, then so can any other political position. You just end up rearranging the labels.

It means that they need the radical left to effect change. Extemists show up and demand BigChange, Establishment resists. More mainstream elements come along up and ask for SmallChange. Then the Establishment decide to accommodate SmallChange because it generally disperses the extremists without giving up everything and without looking like they caved.

That really is generally the way it works when violence is taken out of the equation. And then it usually turns out that SmallChange is basically NoChange, or the Establishment has already formulated a plan to retract the changes gradually to prevent such a stink next time.
posted by Mayor Curley at 12:40 PM on February 10, 2012 [6 favorites]


Stagger Lee - The trick the administration took issue with wasn't about university funding being cut off altogether but the mechanism by which individual students could opt out of contributing. It was the groups' own choice to hold their existence hostage.
posted by Holy Zarquon's Singing Fish at 12:42 PM on February 10, 2012


Public funding for research and advocacy groups isn't a bad thing

Research? No. Advocacy? Yes. If you want to advocate for a political position I disagree with, you have no right to my money.

Also, the issue here isn't whether people can opt out - they can - it's that the groups wanted to make it as difficult as possible for them to do that. It's totally self-serving.
posted by Dasein at 12:45 PM on February 10, 2012 [2 favorites]


"Without a radical left there is no middle-left." Does that mean that that the radical left itself doesn't exist unless there is some kind of ultra-radical left?

No, it means that you need to start with idealism and move from there to compromise.


As Masi left, he told The Daily, “I chose to come down to talk to students. They don’t want to talk.”

No, he didn't come there to talk. He invalidated a formal referendum. If he won't listen to that, the students are quite right to think that he won't listen to a word they say under any circumstances.


Students in Quebec have a sense of entitlement that is truly astonishing; we have some of the best and cheapest post-secondary education available in North America, yet that is not enough.

Don't ask why they've got it so good. Ask why the rest of us don't.

I don't think saving a radio station is a particularly good reason to go to war. Ignoring the results of a referendum on the subject, now that's worth making some noise about.
posted by justsomebodythatyouusedtoknow at 12:46 PM on February 10, 2012 [3 favorites]


What's more, it seems the administration hasn't said the groups cannot continue to exist. They would just have to run a new referendum. While I can see being upset about this, the extreme student reaction seems to suggest to me that they knew they were getting a sneaky benefit with the ballot wording, which they wouldn't be able to have obtained otherwise, and now they're going to hold onto it at all costs.
posted by dixiecupdrinking at 12:49 PM on February 10, 2012


Someone shoot their laptops, quick!
posted by Tarumba at 12:50 PM on February 10, 2012


He invalidated a formal referendum

It wasn't a formal referendum, because it didn't comply with the formal requirements for a referendum. You can't choose to ignore rules and procedure and then bleat about the rule of law.
posted by Dasein at 12:56 PM on February 10, 2012 [2 favorites]



Stagger Lee - The trick the administration took issue with wasn't about university funding being cut off altogether but the mechanism by which individual students could opt out of contributing. It was the groups' own choice to hold their existence hostage.
posted by Holy Zarquon's Singing Fish at 12:42 PM on February 10 [+] [!]


I'm not sure I'm comfortable with some groups being available for opt out by students and others not. I can't opt out of paying the university president's pay cheque, Nothing in any university is really self sustainable.

We get a lot of complaining around here services and departments that don't make money, but it's a fool's game to play. If you start cutting, all you'll be left with is a business department and a bunch of executives.

Universities exist to support these things. Tuition pays into the funding pool, along with alumni donations, private donations, and any government funding.

IMHO universities should be dropping tuition and supporting education, not raising tuition and forcing the students to decide where the bleeding should happen.
posted by Stagger Lee at 1:00 PM on February 10, 2012 [2 favorites]


"There is no such thing as a peaceful occupation" deserves to be a meme. I'll start with an image of Gandhi.

It's sort of already been done.
posted by hoyland at 1:04 PM on February 10, 2012


The game around here seems to go like this:

The government doesn't give the university any money. The university cuts programs, cuts staff, and raises tuition. The staff cry alone. The students cry alone. Executive salaries go up.

I'd like student groups to talk to staff groups, and start pushing some of the shit back up hill. Attacking all of these issues in isolation isn't working, and we're just squabbling amongst ourselves over the scraps.
posted by Stagger Lee at 1:04 PM on February 10, 2012 [3 favorites]


I'm not sure I'm comfortable with some groups being available for opt out by students and others not. I can't opt out of paying the university president's pay cheque, Nothing in any university is really self sustainable.

I don't like opt-outs. I'm a froth-at-the-mouth radical, and I'd rather have some fraction of my fees go to the Right-Wing Anti-Abortion Gay-Haters' Club or whatever than have the sort of stupid, dishonest game-playing that always goes on over opting out.

Also, although as a bandaid measure I'd be okay with some needs-based reductions in student fees for qualifying students, I think that what tends to happen is that student fees are used as a way to pretend to talk about real problems. Fees are a tiny drop in the bucket compared to student debt generally; getting rid of fees (which is nearly always either a right-wing or a corporate university goal) sound understandably attractive in the moment to broke students, but doesn't do anything to address the real problem and just facilities the right-wing-ization/corporatization of the university.
posted by Frowner at 1:06 PM on February 10, 2012 [2 favorites]


They could opt out already. The articles imply that students can opt out of funding many (Most? All? Doesn't say.) student groups through the university's “Minerva” website. The referenda QPIRG and CKUT held made it so they, and only they, were removed from Minerva, meaning any student who wanted to opt out of funding those two groups had to do so in person. The only choices were “eliminate QPIRG and CKUT entirely” and “keep QPIRG and CKUT, remove them from Minerva.” It doesn't take a genius to see the groups' motive in phrasing the question like that, and the fact that they pulled the last-minute submission nonsense is enough for me to assume they knew exactly what they were doing.
posted by Holy Zarquon's Singing Fish at 1:07 PM on February 10, 2012 [4 favorites]


One thing PIRGs do that I like is support students doing research in the community, at the request of community groups, and often for course credit.

Back when i was in Montreal, McGill PIRG students did the key research on a proposed garbage incineration plant in a poor Montreal neighbourhood. The students involved in that did it with faculty support for the research techniques by arranging a directed studies ... this helped ensure the research was of sufficient quality .. and worked with community groups which ensured the research was used in a way to support the community efforts to promote recycling instead of incineration.

The referendum question is clear enough in that you can tell what it means, but it is double barreled, which is silly. PIRG could simply offer to re-run the part about refund methods separately. Most student groups don't have opt out fees --typically this affects PIRGs and campus media, but not the student unions, their clubs (many of which are political) or athletic fees which are now largely collected directly to the universities.

Used to work at a PIRG, myself, and as staff, I always thought of the refund process as "keeping us accountable"--your job is to be worth $3.75 to the vast majority of students. I remember one instance when some of our members did something *really stupid* and I gave our a fair few refunds outside of the "official refund period" after that, with my sincere apologies. (Bet McGill would never do that when they screw up!).

In fact, McGill has refused to recognize students democratic will before--to wit, the Shatner referendum.
posted by chapps at 1:24 PM on February 10, 2012 [2 favorites]


Also, it should be clear that while the universities collect the fees for these groups, they are not university groups, per se, but student initiatives.

Therefore, while the student groups are definitely an important part of campus life, they are not part of government underfunding of universities any more than low budgets for campus employee's unions would be attributable to government cut backs--that money comes from union dues and is independent.
posted by chapps at 1:28 PM on February 10, 2012 [1 favorite]


And good for the administration - forcing students to subsidize highly politicized speech and advocacy they disagree with is objectionable.

So can I opt out of my tuition when the university administration starts pushing a right-wing agenda?
posted by twirlip at 1:32 PM on February 10, 2012


And good for the administration - forcing students to subsidize highly politicized speech and advocacy they disagree with is objectionable.

So can I opt out of my tuition when the university administration starts pushing a right-wing agenda?


I sometimes wonder if people really think the analogies they make are compelling or if they just don't care if they think it sounds good.
posted by Dasein at 1:35 PM on February 10, 2012


What is it you dislike about the analogy? I pay the equivalent of a few cups of coffee to "subsidize politicized speech," and as a student I can get involved in the PIRG if I don't like their current agenda. The lack of an opt-out provision is a false problem. I pay far more money to, and have far less control over, the university itself; its adminstration is far more influential than any PIRG, and every bit as politicized.
posted by twirlip at 1:50 PM on February 10, 2012 [6 favorites]


Peaceful demonstrations shouldn't leave behind the stench of stale cigarette smoke.

All my memories of Montreal involve the stench of stale cigarette smoke; I'd be surprised if the smell of stale cigarette smoke has even worn off since they banned smoking in public places.
posted by Hoopo at 3:07 PM on February 10, 2012


And good for the administration - forcing students to subsidize highly politicized speech and advocacy they disagree with is objectionable.

Oddly enough, some would say that holding a vote and then kicking the results you don't like to the curb is objectionable.
posted by Kid Charlemagne at 3:20 PM on February 10, 2012


If your local government held an election where voters chose between dropping a boulder on your neighbor's house or throwing a brick at your head, with no option for "don't hit anybody with rocks of any kind," would objections to that vote just be a matter of "kicking the results you don't like to the curb"?
posted by Holy Zarquon's Singing Fish at 3:41 PM on February 10, 2012


Dasein: actually:
"According to Wheeler, another result of the 2008 referendum was communication from the administration emphasizing they would only consider a referendum decision to change the opt-out system if it was included in a student-approved existence question. This would ensure that students provide a clear mandate for the organization to exist under a new opt-out system.

“There are very specific legal requirements to the question,” said Wheeler. “Students need to mandate that our fee is renewed in a certain way… Its administration is also part of the same question according to McGill’s interpretation, and so the question has to be combined.”
Dasein: It wasn't a formal referendum, because it didn't comply with the formal requirements for a referendum. You can't choose to ignore rules and procedure and then bleat about the rule of law.

It was a formal referendum -- it was run by Elections SSMU, which is the body that runs elections and referendums at McGill, and they thought it was clear enough. Notice how the admin dude says “Organizations are encouraged to submit their questions beforehand to avoid such problems. Many groups do, but some, unfortunately, don’t.” (emphasis mine).
posted by Monday, stony Monday at 3:46 PM on February 10, 2012


It was a formal referendum -- it was run by Elections SSMU, which is the body that runs elections and referendums at McGill, and they thought it was clear enough.

Some students have alleged serious deficiencies in the referendum process:
The students’ 64-page case file – which includes evidence gathered from emails, Facebook activity, SSMU Council minutes, and campus publications – accuses the QPIRG ‘Yes’ committee of numerous infractions. The case claims that campaign rules were enforced irregularly, and challenges numerous decisions of Elections SSMU Chief Electoral Officer Rebecca Tacoma.

After requesting access to the SSMU membership list in late September, Newburgh used his access to check the membership status of the signatories to the petition for the QPIRG referendum question. A list of 12 students who are deemed to be non-SSMU members is included in the case file.

The opt-out promoters appear to be a large conservative group. From M,sM's link:

Adam Wheeler, co-chair of the QPIRG ‘yes’ committee, said that online opt-outs in recent years have had such a severe impact on the organization that they felt compelled to include it in the fee renewal question.

That's tough, but I can't help thinking their basic problem is that too few students find their service worth paying for and so are choosing not to give them any money. It might have been better to make the nature of the funding mechanism a separate question from the existence one. As proposed, the question requires students who do not wish to fund these groups to trek across campus every semester to wherever their offices are located to explain in person why they don't wish to contribute, and it's probable that most students won't bother, due to a mix of embarrassment and the fact that the amount saved ($11-12 per annum) may simply be not be worth the time cost of the personal opt-out visits to individual students.

On the other hand, when students are given the convenience of an electronic administrative choice (the Minerva system), the vast majority of them state that they do not find these services worth paying for. I would support the rights of these grousp to exist, but not their right to automatic funding. Essentially their funding strategy is based on making it more difficult for students to express their financial choice. I'm unclear why they think the students should have to appear in person to opt out from funding a particular campus group if they don't feel like doing so.
posted by anigbrowl at 4:41 PM on February 10, 2012


Ironically enough, the referendum itself was run online, despite the referendum question seeking to exempt these groups from participation in the online opt-out system.
posted by anigbrowl at 4:45 PM on February 10, 2012


Well, it was sort of expected that the right-wing was going to come out with alleged irregularities.

It should also be noted that CKUT and QPIRG are the only groups that have that "opt-out" option -- which is sort of weird, no?
posted by Monday, stony Monday at 6:11 PM on February 10, 2012


So, who is Mort Mendelson and what does he have to do with whatever it is that this is about? What is this about anyway?
posted by Ardiril at 7:40 PM on February 10, 2012


As someone who lives in Davis, man, I'm glad this isn't happening here, for a change. Instead, they're now having 12-ish students camp out in front of the campus US Bank every day, shutting it down early. And the "re-occupy" movement moved into an empty building on campus for a week-ish, until there was an outcry that another office on campus was going to move into there and how dare they. Then they moved out.

I am getting really sick of camping out as a method of protest. Not that I am overly fond of a bank on campus either, but all the camping is doing is annoying the shit out of the local population (some of which may actually be using the various facilities) and not hampering the everyday doings of the people who set the policies. I truly don't get what the hell occupying is supposed to be doing. Social blackmail, I guess?
posted by jenfullmoon at 8:41 PM on February 10, 2012


It should also be noted that CKUT and QPIRG are the only groups that have that "opt-out" option -- which is sort of weird, no?

Well, it turns out that there are 20 such groups. All I did was go to Google and type "McGill Minerva Opt-Out" and count the number of groups that had asterisks next to them. Fact-checking! It's a beautiful thing!
posted by anigbrowl at 11:17 PM on February 10, 2012 [1 favorite]


Yeah, my mistake.
posted by Monday, stony Monday at 11:31 AM on February 11, 2012


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