May 7, 2021
Three years ago I ran for a seat on the Board of Governors because I believed that I, as a McGill staff member for 19 years and as a community activist, had something to offer and a useful perspective that the Board would benefit from, as it makes decisions that affect everyone in the McGill community.
When I ran in 2018 I asked my fellow staff to elect me because, and I quote:
We, staff, have a unique and deep understanding of McGill and its culture. This, sometimes, is not fully appreciated. We need a strong voice that can tackle sensitive issues, with diplomacy, tact and know-how*, on the Board.
I am running because I want to tackle many issues, including:
1) Decisive action on Sexual Harassment, intimidation and discrimination
2) Racial and cultural awareness and sensitivity
3) Development opportunities; and family and community time allowances for staff
4) Ethical research
I am also running because I believe McGill’s Board can benefit from cultural diversity.
Unfortunately, before my three year term on the board ended I was compelled to resign my seat.
Mine was not the first resignation by an elected Governor from the Board in protest during the past years. In 2019, both elected Academic Governors Derek Nystrom and Darin Barney resigned their seats in protest. They explained their reasons in this La Presse article: (https://plus.lapresse.ca/screens/f8feab2e-9a1f-47fb-8105-bde59296b353__7C___0.html).
During the time I spent on the Board I worked tirelessly and seriously to fulfill my responsibility as a Governor towards the University; but, I am sad to say, the odds were constantly stacked against me and I felt I was a lone voice, especially after the resignation of Derek and Darin.
Despite the difficulties I was planning to complete my term, but what happened over the past month was unacceptable, both procedurally and collegially and left me with no choice. I asked to table a motion to the Board regarding an Equity statement, endorsed by the vast majority of the McGill Community, but the Secretary General and the Chair of the Board refused to table it, despite my many attempts to accommodate any reservations they had (although I did not agree with those). I explained and clarified my position in a lengthy exchange of emails, for over two weeks. The Equity statement, the list of endorsers and the motion text appear below*, for your information.
This refusal to table a duly presented motion was a violation of both my rights and responsibility as a Governor and I was left with no option but to resign my seat, after exhausting other options.
I do not regret the years I spend on the board, despite the difficulties. I have a few small things I am proud of achieving while being on the board.
- i) Pushing for and setting a deadline for the CAMSR report on Divestment,
- ii) Initiating the process to establish a fairer election system for Governors,
iii) Initiating the discussion and reform process about the excessive Board and Committee work load of Governors elected from the Administrative and Support Staff.
- iv) I have also been a voice, many times a unique one, on other issues e.g. the lack of diversity in the naming of McGill assets,
- v) Divestment and environmental leadership,
- vi) representation of Course Lecturers and Instructors on McGill governing bodies,
vii) a suitable schedule to insure the presence of Governors-at-Large in the Student Forum, and
viii) bringing attention to difficulties staff are facing with IT tools, etc.
Working in a collegial and positive manner was not made easy for me. I soon discovered that the Board does not give the same value to elected Governors representing the McGill community (especially the Staff and Student reps) as it does other Governors. I got the impression that we are there to give an image that McGill is governed in a participatory way. Many times I was told that, as a Governor, I have to think only of the benefit of the University which was very insulting. Presenting a dissenting point of view based on deep knowledge of what is happening in the McGill community, that Governors-at-Large are mostly isolated from, is not against the interests of the University. It actually is a much needed input to insure that the Board does not only get its information from the University administration.
In addition to this I faced many obstacles over my three years. When discussing the budget, I asked as a board member, to separate the salaries of the upper administrators from the salaries of the staff (which all appeared in one line). This led to months of email exchanges and at the end I was not given the information I asked for. Finally, many months later, I had to resort to the Access to Information Act to obtain that information. It is troubling when a Governor of the University has to resort to the Access to Information Act to obtain documents from the institution available to the public. This shows the type of hurdles that were put in my way, preventing me from fulfilling my responsibilities.
Another obstacle was assigning me to committees where I have no experience, value to offer on, or even interest; while denying me a seat on committees where I had a lot to offer. I had expressed, from day one, my interest in CAMSR but was told that there was no vacancy there. When the staff member who sat on CAMSR left the board, I expressed my interest again. Still I was given no logical reason why I was placed on a committee I had no experience in while the new staff member, who was placed on CAMSR, was interested in it.
Last, but not least, when I resigned giving my clear reasons, there was no attempt by the Chair to look into it, discuss the issue with me, or try to resolve the situation, which could have been easily resolved, in any way.
Despite all this, I say that the issue here is not about what I faced. The board structure and functionality need fixing. Currently the Governors elected, directly or indirectly, by the McGill Community, have only 8 votes of the 25 votes on the board. Still, their rights as Governors are not respected if they do not show conformity with the leadership, as portrayed by the situation that led me to resign. Either the McGill Community has an effective voice on the Board, or it is more honorable not to have elected members at all.
This said, neither am I giving up working within the McGill Community to make McGill a better place for everyone, nor do I discourage others from seeking a seat on the Board as long as they are aware of what they are getting into. The responsibility falls on the leadership of the Board and the University to, first of all, apply the rules equally to all and fix the system to make the McGill community representation on the board meaningful.
Achieving this last point needs striking a committee chosen by the McGill population with a majority representation from the community to come up with a more effective and inclusive model of governance.
IT & Tech. Services Manager, ECE Governor 2018 - 2021
*Motion on Equity
Whereas: The university has made a commitment to equity in many previously adopted policies and statements.
Whereas: Many in the McGill community and outside are not aware of such commitments.
Whereas: The university’s 200th anniversary is taking place at a time when Equity is front and centre in the public eye.
Whereas: the statement below was proposed by the Senate Subcommittee on Racialized and Ethnic Persons and was endorsed by the listed unions, associations and student groups, representing the vast majority of members of the McGill Community*; as well as by renowned philosopher, professor emeritus, Charles Taylor.
Be it resolved that the Board of Governors approves the following :
We recommend that, on the occasion of its 200th anniversary, the university issue a statement/declaration of commitment to equity, based on the statement widely endorsed by the McGill community, after due consultation; and erect a plaque carrying the said statement at a prominent location on the McGill grounds; e.g. at the entrance of the university near the Roddick Gates or close to the James McGill statue.
McGill University's Commitment to Equity
On the occasion of its 200th anniversary, McGill University is proud to make the following declaration:
McGill University will uphold the principles of equity and will foster an inclusive environment where no one is overlooked, burdened or suffers in any way because of the (in)visibility of their ethnicity, colour of skin, religion, native languages, age, gender identity or expression, sexual orientation, disabilities, class, or citizenship status.
We acknowledge the mistakes of the past and our historical relationship to colonization and enslavement, and commit to being a place that celebrates and empowers diversity in everyday life, activities and governance.
* proposed by the Senate Subcommittee on Racialized and Ethnic Persons and endorsed by:
Association of McGill University Research Employees (AMURE-PSAC), Sean Cory - President
McGill University Non-Academic Certified Association (MUNACA), Thomas Chalmers - President
McGill Course Lecturers and Instructors Union (MCLIU), Raad Jassim - President
Association of Graduate Students Employed at McGill (AGSEM), Mario Roy - President
Service Employees' Union - Datacenter (SEU), Giovanni Mendicino - President
Service Employees' Union - Facilities Management (SEU), Jose Rego - President
Post-Graduate Students' Society of McGill University (PGSS), Babatunde Alli - External Affairs Officer
Students' Society of McGill University (SSMU), Jemark Earle - President
Muslim Students' Association (MSA) at McGill University, Mustafa Fakih - President
Engineering Undergraduate Society of McGill University (EUS) - Executive Committee
Muslim Law Students’ Association (Law Faculty, McGill University)
McGill Black Law Students’ Association
Macdonald Campus Students' Society (MCSS), Executive Council
Music Graduate Students' Society (MGSS), Executive Council
and also endorsed by Professor Emeritus Charles Taylor