By Doug Sweet
The senior administration has accepted all three of Arts Dean Christopher Manfredi’s recommendations concerning free expression and peaceful assembly on campus, Principal Heather Munroe-Blum told Senate on Wednesday.
The recommendations will be implemented, Munroe-Blum said, and details concerning how the University will move forward will be made public by Nov. 23, including any changes to the Provisional Protocol established after last February’s five-day occupation of Deputy Provost (Student Life and Learning) Morton Mendelson’s sixth-floor office in the James Administration Building.
The Manfredi report grew originally from a recommendation by Law Dean Daniel Jutras, who conducted an investigation into last November’s brief occupation of the Principal’s and Provost’s offices at the same time riot police came on campus and used pepper spray and later tear gas to deal with a demonstration outside the James Building and in the surrounding streets.
Manfredi, who conducted four open forums across the University and organized an academic symposium on free expression and peaceful assembly, recommended in his report that:
- The Code of Student Conduct be clarified concerning its references to “disruption,” “unauthorized entry and/or presence,” and “unauthorized or fraudulent sue of university facilities, equipment or services.”
- The “James Protocol” [governing access to the Administration Building] should be revised or reconsidered with a view toward adopting a less-restrictive approach to access and security.
- McGill Security Services should review their training program for both permanent and temporary personnel in order to ensure accuracy and integrity in the case of incident reports and disciplinary proceedings.
In presenting his report to Senate, Manfredi said most of the public discussion in the forums and symposium, as well as in discussions he had with a wide variety of groups and individuals, focused on the question of free assembly, not free expression, because the latter is pretty much a given at McGill.
“We can’t expect universities to be disruption-free zones,” Manfredi said. “But at what point does disruption cross the line from peaceful to non-peaceful?”
He said he would have like to have been able to develop an algorithm to determine which activities, at what level of intensity and over what duration could constitute a crossing of the line, but “that’s not the nature of human activity.”
He cited his report, which said with reference to the academic symposium, “Disruptive activity can be categorized according to where it lies along three dimensions: intensity, intentionality and duration.
“With respect to intensity, disruptions can range from inconvenience to obstruction; with respect to intentionality, from incidental to deliberate. Duration contributes to the intensity of a disruption in the sense that inconveniences can be obstructions if they persist long enough. In general, the University community should be least tolerant of deliberately obstructive disruptions, and most tolerant of incidental inconveniences. The basic point is that tolerance should decrease as disruptions become more deliberate and destructive.”
Manfredi’s report prompted a number of questions from Senators on a variety of aspects.
Jonathan Mooney, a student senator and Secretary-General of the Post-Graduate Student Society, expressed concerns that the revision of the Student Code of Conduct Manfredi’s report calls for (and which is already under way) might lead to a delineation of all possible situations that could lead to disciplinary processes. Mooney argued it would be better to paint a broader brush rather than try to identify every conceivable offence.
Manfredi agreed, saying he didn’t feel it was his intent to develop a list of proscribed activities, but more an articulation of principles.
“McGill’s regulations appear to be substantially under-described,” in comparison with other universities, Manfredi said.
Student Senator Moe Nasr asked about the Provisional Protocol put in place by Provost Anthony Masi and Mendelson following the occupation of Mendelson’s office, arguing that it prohibits pretty much any kind of disruption.
“Peaceful assembly has to have an impact,” he said. “There is a level of disruption that should be imposed on the community.”
Manfredi reiterated that the report says the university should not be a disruption-free zone, that free expression and peaceful assembly are part of the civic education function of a university. Munroe-Blum later confirmed in Senate that the Provisional Protocol is still in place, but will be addressed when the means of implementing Manfredi’s report are presented on Nov. 23.
The report has yet to be discussed by the Board of Governors, and that discussion will also help shape the response, Munroe-Blum said.
To read the report in its entirety, go here.