Senate’s meeting on Oct. 19 was dominated by debate over issues related to the continuing strike by MUNACA members.
A motion by Student Senator Emily Yee Clare to “grant the right to Academic Amnesty” for students in the case of a strike or lock-out involving a McGill-affiliated organization sparked a protracted and at times passionate exchange, with student senators and a few professors arguing for the proposal, and several Deans and administrators firmly opposed. The resolution was ultimately rejected, with 36 senators voting in favour and 44 against.
Prior to that debate, Principal Heather Munroe-Blum had provided an update on the strike by 1,700 support staff, now in its eighth week. She reiterated the University’s desire to negotiate a settlement that is fair to both sides, realistic and sustainable. Eight meetings had been held with the conciliator, with three more scheduled for this month.
At the same time, Munroe-Blum underscored concerns raised in her Oct. 18 message to members of the McGill community, which denounced a recent shift in union tactics “from reasonable, civil free speech into threats and vandalism.” She told Senators she decided to issue that message after personally witnessing harassment of elderly alumni arriving at the annual Red & White Dinner at the Omni Hotel during Homecoming weekend.
The proposed academic-amnesty resolution would have enabled any student to notify the appropriate faculty members and relevant department of his or her absence at least 72 hours prior to the fact. Faculty members would have been required to provide “reasonable accommodation for the deferral of any assignments or course-related projects” with deadlines falling within the duration of the amnesty, which could last up to three working days. Such amnesty wouldn’t, however, apply to certain major academic commitments, such as final examinations or assignments worth more than 35 per cent of the final grade.
Defenders of the motion portrayed it as a carefully crafted and limited accommodation that would enable students to abstain from academic commitments “for reasons of conscientious objection and/or cases of ethical or moral conflict without penalty.” Some drew a parallel with accommodations for religious holidays, or with provisions for sick days.
But opponents argued that religious observance is different from conscientious objection and that, on practical grounds, the University wouldn’t be able to adequately track claims or apply the rules consistently.