Message from Principal Heather Munroe-Blum
Dear colleagues and students,
I write to share with you my thoughts on the James Building
occupation, which, of course, I have been following closely with
the members of the senior team handling the situation. I fully
support the difficult decisions they have had to make as this
protest unfolded. I am grateful that those occupying the sixth
floor of James have been safely escorted from the building and
The past week emphasizes even more the need for us, as a
community, to debate what Dean Jutras refers to in his report as
“the meaning and scope of the rights of free expression and
peaceful assembly on campus,” and to determine the appropriate
parameters of those rights.
It is clear that there are differences of opinion in our
community as to what constitutes an appropriate expression of
dissent. There has been some fierce debate on Twitter, Facebook and
blogs this week concerning the appropriateness or inappropriateness
of the James Building occupation as a form of protest.
I believe that in a university community, as in all civil
society, respect and tolerance go hand-in-hand with free
expression. In the context of current social movements on our
campus, and more broadly, there has emerged what appears to be a
polarization of the way in which some people reject, or even
demonize, those who hold points of view different from their own.
This trend is affecting McGill. I trust that the discussions we
will have in the coming months will help all of us – students,
faculty, administrative and support staff, and the senior
administration– to find effective ways to have our views
heard and to listen to each other, and especially to those with
views different from our own.
Some students feel that the senior administration has not been
available to listen in a meaningful and respectful way. Others feel
that a small group of students and faculty have been asserting
their views and right to freedom of expression over and above those
of other members of the community. Fortunately, we have begun to
make progress in creating new fora for exchanging views—especially
difficult and divergent views—particularly since November 10th.
I, and members of my team, commit to take positive steps toward
promoting, with you, more fruitful relationships among the various
constituencies that make up our University. We require a lot more
discussion and exchange of ideas, listening to each other. I assure
you that we will continue down that road.
Some members of our community will be outraged that we made the
decision to call in the police to remove the occupiers. I believe
that the unwelcome occupation of private offices and mocking and
disrespectful behavior towards specific individuals is not an
appropriate or effective form of protest. Many of the staff in the
James building have been and remain on edge as a result of repeated
unwelcome intrusions into their work space, including in the weeks
just prior to the occupation of this past week.
Even as we value enormously the right to freedom of expression
and peaceful assembly, each employee of the University has the
right to a work space in which they feel safe and secure. It is our
responsibility to ensure that they have this. There is a
distinction to be made between the right to freedom of expression
on the one hand, and the University’s policies prohibiting
activities that hinder the regular functioning of the University,
its administration, health and safety requirements, or activities
that infringe upon the personal offices of employees.
I look forward to hearing your views on the situation as we
undertake a series of Open Forum discussions on freedom of
expression and civil debate on our campuses.
Tomorrow morning I will issue my response to the Jutras report.
Today, Provost Masi and Vice-Principal Di Grappa will issue a
provisional protocol regarding demonstrations, protests and
occupations on campus. This protocol represents an interim set of
guidelines and is not meant to usurp the fora on free speech and
civil dissent recommended by the Jutras report. Elements of this
provisional protocol may be revised as a result of the Open Forum
discussions and consultation with students, staff and professors. I
encourage the community to comment on these guidelines as part of
the ongoing discussion.
As you know, various protests have taken place recently, both on
campus and elsewhere in Montreal, and more are planned leading up
to the March 22nd Quebec-wide tuition related demonstrations. I, as
Principal, along with the other members of the senior
administration, believe that in order to fulfill our
responsibilities to protect the safety of our community, and to
ensure the functioning of the University, a provisional protocol
must be in place in order that we have clear, public rules to guide
us, even if elements of these rules might eventually change.
I would like to thank the James Building staff for their efforts
to carry out their work on behalf of the University in the face of
repeated disruptions. In addition, I want to thank all of you for
your patience and composure over the past week in dealing with any
disruptions to our services that might have made your lives more
Principal and Vice-Chancellor, McGill University