Free expression forum goes to Mac

Dissent not as significant an issue on University’s western campus, participants say

By Jim Hynes

Approximately 25 members of the Macdonald Campus community gathered to discuss what is tolerable or appropriate when it comes to expressing dissent when the third Open Forum on Free Expression and Peaceful Assembly headed west Tuesday.

Provost Anthony Masi, Deputy Provost (Student Life and Learning) Morton Mendelson and Chandra Madramootoo, Dean of the Faculty of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences, were part of a group made up mostly of faculty and administrators. Only one or two Mac students attended the event.

Those who did show up discussed a variety of topics, including possible explanations of why the Macdonald Campus has been spared the unrest and demonstrations of dissent seen on the downtown campus this year; the effectiveness of University communications; relations on campus in regards to the ongoing student tuition protests; the issue of controversial external speakers; and the climate at Mac during the MUNACA strike.

A number of speakers addressed the smaller size of the Macdonald campus and community, saying the kinds of demonstrations that have occurred downtown were unlikely to happen where “everybody knows each other.”

“There’s a difference because I know most students, I can call them by name,” said Caroline Begg, a professor in the Department of Plant Science. “I spoke to them about my personal views on what they were talking about (tuition hikes), and we agreed to disagree. It’s not so impersonal out here.”

Others spoke about how perceptions of McGill’s senior administration were driving some of the dissent downtown.

“I think right now that the senior administration is a polarizing issue, and any dissent is going to be targeted where they are located,” said Parasitology professor Armando Jardim. “So I think that one of the questions that needs to be asked is what has changed in the last two or three or four years that has changed the mindset of the population. I think there has to be some serious introspection from the top down.”

The volume and tone of written communications from the University, particularly during the MUNACA strike, was another popular topic of discussion, with some participants commenting on their impact on the atmosphere at McGill this past year.

“The tone was different, and as a professor you sort of felt caught between your colleagues who you are really close to and the University’s position,” said Tim Johns, a professor in the School of Dietetics and Human Nutrition. “And the messages we got by email set a tone that certainly made me feel that I better not speak out on an issue like this. And I think that anything like that sort of dampens our enthusiasm for expressing ourselves on a number of issues.”

The only comment submitted online suggested the University consider creating a Speaker’s Corner or other specially designated area or mechanism for expressing individual dissent.

The fourth and final Open Forum on Free Expression and Peaceful Assembly will be held on April 4, from 11:30 a.m. to 1 p.m., in the Bellini Atrium of the Life Sciences Complex (3649 promenade Sir William Osler). For more on the Open Forum, and to download podcasts of the first three sessions, visit