Dear members of the McGill community,
I write today because I feel compelled to speak once again to the profound sorrow, suffering and distress shared by many of our colleagues and students in the wake of the horrifying loss of so many Palestinian and Israeli lives.
Institutional messages carry weight, and they bring with them a responsibility that I take seriously. So, when I write to you as your Principal, I do so after considerable reflection, taking pains to first consult a range of stakeholders and viewpoints. Despite this, these messages can sometimes be received in unintended ways; as noted in the Oct. 20 message sent by Angela Campbell, Associate Provost (Equity and Academic Policies) and Fabrice Labeau, Deputy Provost (Student Life and Learning), recipients will read and interpret institutional communications “through the lens of [their] lived reality.” This is inescapable. Keeping this in mind, my role in divisive times is to listen attentively to those who are hurting, lead from a place of compassion, and work to bring our community together.
In that spirit, I hope today to make two things clear.
- Even in my brief time so far as Principal and Vice-Chancellor, I have come to care profoundly not only about the McGill community as a whole, but also about its members as individuals. Given this, it is not my place to weigh the anguish of one McGillian over that of another. Likewise, I will not draw distinctions between the suffering caused by the loss of Israeli and Palestinian life. Seeking to weigh the pain being experienced by one group over another both detracts and distracts from the collective grief within our community, which is where we must direct our focus and care at this time. Relatedly, while I can understand the many impassioned calls for McGill to weigh in on geopolitical crises around the world, doing so lies beyond a university’s mandate and role. Our academic mission is most faithfully served when institutional views are limited to what happens here on our campuses, so that all students, faculty, and staff feel included as members of our community, regardless of their identities and personal beliefs. As stated above, it is an inescapable reality that each of you will understand and interpret my messages based on your lived reality; rest assured however that my intentions are never to make a political statement through these communications. My focus is on you and on our community.
- This brings me to my second point, which is to call, once again, for respectful and constructive engagement on our campuses. In recent weeks, we have heard reports of intimidation, doxing, and other threatening behaviours targeting McGillians. These hostilities are unacceptable and must stop. As I have stated earlier, words and acts of retaliation and intimidation will not be tolerated, and reports of such conduct will be investigated and acted upon pursuant to our policies. Although I am firmly convinced that a university should remain impartial with respect to political questions, I am equally convinced that here on our campuses we must act clearly and decisively to ensure that institutional values, which include academic freedom, responsibility, integrity, equity, and inclusiveness, are upheld.
In our university community and beyond, we will inevitably come across viewpoints with which we disagree, sometimes vehemently. And here, as elsewhere, we are called upon to act with the empathy and respect that we ourselves wish to receive. Echoing Profs. Labeau and Campbell once again, I ask you to remember that words have great weight in times like these – not only my words, but yours as well. I invite us all to reflect upon this weight, and to choose words – and actions – that foster an environment of compassion, inclusivity, and respect.
Principal and Vice-Chancellor