It’s cru­cial to en­sure things do change at McGill

Plan for ex­ter­nal in­ves­ti­ga­tor is wel­come, but com­pla­cency would be a mis­take, Ariella Gar­maise says.

Montreal Gazette - - OPINION -

A month af­ter the end of McGill Univer­sity’s win­ter se­mes­ter was dis­rupted by stu­dents protest­ing against al­leged mis­han­dling of com­plaints of sexual ha­rass­ment and sexual vi­o­lence, McGill has fi­nally cho­sen to re­spond. In an email sent out to univer­sity fac­ulty and stu­dents on May 10, Provost and Vice-Prin­ci­pal (Aca­demic) Christo­pher Man­fredi wrote that McGill will ap­point a spe­cial ex­ter­nal in­ves­ti­ga­tor to ad­dress com­plaints of sexual ha­rass­ment and vi­o­lence, and will cre­ate an ad hoc com­mit­tee to ex­am­ine pol­icy re­gard­ing stu­dent­pro­fes­sor re­la­tion­ships.

How­ever, while some of the stu­dents’ de­mands may appear to have been met, now is not the time for com­pla­cency. Rather, McGill stu­dents need to see that spe­cific changes to McGill’s poli­cies are in­deed made, and to con­tinue to hold the ad­min­is­tra­tion ac­count­able.

McGill has re­peat­edly main­tained that the sexual vi­o­lence pol­icy cov­ers both fac­ulty and stu­dents. How­ever, when it comes to pur­su­ing dis­ci­plinary ac­tion, dif­fer­ent pro­ce­dures have ap­plied. Whereas the sexual vi­o­lence pol­icy refers stu­dents to the Stu­dent Code of Con­duct, com­plaints against pro­fes­sors are filed us­ing the Ten­ure Pol­icy. Un­der the ten­ure pol­icy, dis­ci­plinary mea­sures are of­ten kept con­fi­den­tial — a bar­rier McGill claims is due to Que­bec laws. In ef­fect, this means that when fil­ing com­plaints against pro­fes­sors, stu­dents are of­ten left in the dark about what ex­actly comes of their cases. It is to be hoped that the new ex­ter­nal in­ves­ti­ga­tor will be able to pro­vide more trans­parency.

The pro­cesses for fil­ing com­plaints is in dire need of re­form. Nav­i­gat­ing the mul­ti­tude and com­plex­ity of the per­ti­nent doc­u­ments can be har­row­ing. This is an is­sue that the Stu­dents’ So­ci­ety of McGill Univer­sity (SSMU) out­lined clearly in its April 4 open let­ter. Ideally, a sexual vi­o­lence pol­icy should be con­sol­i­dated into one doc­u­ment, mak­ing it as clear and con­cise as pos­si­ble. In Oc­to­ber, I was as­signed to ex­am­ine this pol­icy in a piece for the McGill Tri­bune, yet de­spite hav­ing weeks to re­search and an en­tire ed­i­to­rial team at my dis­posal, I found the task nearly im­pos­si­ble. For sur­vivors, travers­ing this web of le­gal jar­gon while cop­ing with emo­tional and or phys­i­cal trauma, can be dev­as­tat­ing.

The ap­point­ment of a spe­cial in­ves­ti­ga­tor will shift not just the univer­sity’s pol­icy, but also the struc­ture of its ad­min­is­tra­tion, and the chain of com­mand for re­port­ing sexual ha­rass­ment. This is wel­come. Formerly, ha­rass­ment as­ses­sors fell un­der the purview of the as­so­ciate provost’s (Eq­uity and Aca­demic Poli­cies) of­fice. This meant that when in­ves­ti­gat­ing claims of ha­rass­ment, as­ses­sors re­ported di­rectly to the univer­sity, an in­sti­tu­tion they were sup­posed to be hold­ing ac­count­able. More­over, there ex­isted no body to hold se­nior ad­min­is­tra­tion ac­count­able — it’s dif­fi­cult to file a com­plaint against a mem­ber of the se­nior ad­min­is­tra­tion when they’re the ones to whom ha­rass­ment of­fi­cers re­port. The ap­point­ment of an ex­ter­nal in­ves­ti­ga­tor will help avoid any con­flicts of in­ter­est or ap­pear­ances of con­flicts.

SSMU’s open let­ter was suc­cess­ful pre­cisely be­cause it iden­ti­fied ex­actly what is lack­ing in McGill’s cur­rent pro­ce­dures. Pol­icy jar­gon and bureau­cratic in­tri­ca­cies of­ten con­fuse stu­dents into sub­mis­sion, but McGill’s stu­dent gov­ern­ment and stu­dent body have ac­com­plished a tremen­dous feat in study­ing these doc­u­ments, and spec­i­fy­ing ex­actly what changes need to be made. Stu­dents re­jected the ad­min­is­tra­tion’s in­sis­tence that ex­ist­ing pro­ce­dures were suf­fi­cient, and in turn, pre­sented a call to ac­tion.

Even as the univer­sity takes wel­come steps in pre­par­ing to ap­point a spe­cial in­ves­ti­ga­tor and form ad hoc com­mit­tee, it is cru­cial that stu­dents re­main vigilant to en­sure that things re­ally do change. Ariella Gar­maise is a fourthyear stu­dent at McGill Univer­sity study­ing English and His­tory. She is also a man­ag­ing ed­i­tor at the McGill Tri­bune.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Canada

© PressReader. All rights reserved.