Message to the community (Nov. 21, 2011)
Message from the Principal and Vice-Chancellor
I have heard from many of you since the troubling events of November 10 on our downtown campus. Upset, anger, and concerns have been expressed. There is a worry that McGill is moving away from being an open, tolerant and safe environment.
Members of our community – students, faculty, staff, bystanders, and those caught in the protest outside the James Building – have been hurt because of the events of November 10th. I also know that even people who were not present at the time – including parents, family members, alumni, volunteers, and others who care about McGill – have been affected.
In speaking at Senate last week, I stated, as I do again here, how profoundly sorry I am that events so at odds with the culture and values of our University have happened here. I know I am not alone in striving to ensure that we not experience these regrettable events again.
As Principal of McGill, I am responsible for what happens on our campuses. The events of November 10 have served as a wake-up call for me about problems we have with respect to how we communicate, plan and interact as a community, and I commit to work with the McGill community to explore and find solutions to these problems, and to implement them.
I am encouraged by the many gestures of mutual support offered by our student groups, faculty and staff, including peaceful gatherings like the one last Monday, where strong views were freely expressed. These events also show that in spite of the many different points of view across the University, we care deeply about McGill, and where it is going.
We have enormous strength in our people and our institution. We do not need to turn our University upside down, but we must take a good look at how we interact as a community and we will find ways to engage with all members of McGill in making our University more open, more inclusive and stronger.
As you know, at my request, Dean of Law Daniel Jutras has begun his independent investigation of the events of November 10. He will submit a report and recommendations to me by December 15, which will be made public without delay. The report will provide an opportunity for debate and comment, and will be placed on the agendas of our Senate and our Board of Governors for discussion.
Over the past week or so, and ongoing between now and December 15th and into the new year, I am meeting with members of the community, mostly in groups, to hear your experiences, views and recommendations regarding how to improve relations. Meetings with the student associations across faculties, as well as SSMU and PGSS and MCSS, deans and chairs, groups of professors at the departmental and faculty levels, MAUT and M-Staff at Management Forum all provide fora for these groups to voice their concerns and recommendations and to allow us to discuss ways of strengthening the sense in our community that McGill is a safe place. We are looking at means of improving dialogue and fostering an environment that reinforce and reflects our core values as a University; that is, that we welcome and encourage freedom of speech, open debate and dissent, and, that we celebrate, fundamentally, our academic freedoms. We will find more and better ways for us all to accept and embrace the differences that exist across our community. I will answer questions and hear input from the broader McGill community in a live webcast on November 29 at 12 p.m. (details to come). I have described here, my intent and some of my actions as Principal, but let me clear, I won’t be, and am not, working in a vacuum. Across the University many are working on strengthening our collective engagement, communication and the general sense of safety and well-being in our community and on our campuses.
This has been a tough fall punctuated by the events of November 10th. But adversity can lead to renewal and to improving the way we do things. On Friday, November 18, I met with Montreal Chief of Police, Marc Parent, and expressed to him the shock and dismay that we, the McGill community, felt as a result of the deployment of the riot squad on November 10. Given that we rely on collaboration with the police to foster a safe and secure environment for our community, we agreed to work to improve our procedures for those rare instances where their response to events on and around our campuses may become necessary.
For nearly 200 years, McGill has stood strong by its core values of academic freedom, freedom of speech, openness, tolerance, hard work, integrity, collegiality, democracy, justice and equity. I accepted the position as Principal of McGill, because I hold those values dear, and have tried my utmost to uphold them throughout my life. Like so many members of this community, I believe passionately in an open, tolerant, respectful and safe environment for discussion, debate and the peaceful expression of dissent.
These values will continue to guide me - as well as the rest of McGill’s administration - in the actions and interactions we will undertake in the coming weeks and months. I look to you as well, for your continued engagement, your suggestions and your confidence as we move forward together.
Professor Heather Munroe-Blum