On Jan. 14, the McGill University administration announced that the majority of in-person classes and teaching activities would resume starting Jan. 24. The decision to return to in-person learning came as the Omicron variant was tearing through the province and the Montreal area health-care system was reporting the highest possible alert level, as record numbers of surgeries were being canceled. The decision to suddenly reopen campus reflects the administration’s willingness to risk the safety of vulnerable communities at the university and the broader Montreal community in the interest of profit. 

McGill’s return to in-person teaching is exceptionally premature when compared to other Canadian universities. As of this week, Concordia will remain online through Feb. 2, while many western universities are remaining online until after their respective reading weeks. To justify this rushed reopening, the McGill administration and particularly Principal Suzanne Fortier made several unfounded statements, such as quotes from a “top doctor” that she could not name suggesting that Omicron is a “live vaccine virus”. The criminal negligence being displayed by the administration is a clear indictment of not just its corrupt officials, but also its top-down governance structure.

It bears repeating that what is driving the administration to take such reckless steps is their fear of losing tuition revenue in the face of growing austerity and cuts to education services. Meanwhile, McGill has an investment fund that has grown by 45 per cent since the beginning of the pandemic to incorporate $1.9 billion in assets. The reason these funds are not used to improve infrastructure, safety, and learning conditions on campus is because the governance of the university has interests that are completely separate from that of the student body. This needs to change.

McGill students have been organizing for some time now to challenge the authority of the university’s board of governors, who are a largely unelected body of McGill bureaucrats, CEOs and wealthy benefactors, with minimal student and staff representation. 

The students have not taken this lying down. The undergraduate and graduate student societies are currently crowdfunding for the purchase and distribution of N95 or KN95 masks as the administration has not been willing to provide even such minimal safety provisions, with Principal Fortier commenting that “…those higher level masks are very uncomfortable. You will not expect a person to wear them for a long period of time…” This was said in an attempt to justify the continued provision of lower-quality procedural masks instead of N95s or KN95s, with no evidence of McGill students refusing to wear higher-quality face coverings. 

Students in select faculties have gone further, organizing general assemblies in their faculty associations and voting to go on a stay-home strike. Undergraduates in the School of Social Work and graduates in the education faculty have decided to strike until Feb. 25, particularly concerned over spreading the virus to students they interact with as part of their practical education.

It is important to note that these collective actions are proceeding via the faculty associations and not the undergraduate and postgraduate student societies, forcing each faculty to hold a strike vote independently and dividing the student body. The reasons for this are largely to do with the way the student societies (the Students’ Society of McGill University, or SSMU, and the Post-Graduate Students’ Society or PGSS) function at McGill, being heavily under the thumb of the McGill bureaucracy. Recent popular movements of the students that attempted to go through the student societies have been suppressed by these bureaucratic roadblocks, leading to a general disillusionment with the student societies as arenas of struggle. However, despite their limitations, the SSMU and PGSS are our best tools for mobilizing the greatest number of students to safeguard the collective well-being of the campus. We call on the SSMU to put forward a strike vote for all students and make all of their organizational capacity available to mobilize students for said strike.

The fundamental contradiction on the campus is between the students and workers on one side, who make up the working class community of McGill, and the administration and board of governors on the other, which represent investors and the government. The student movement must take up the call for eliminating the unelected board of governors and instituting a council of students, teachers, and workers that will run McGill. We cannot trust the administration to create a safe teaching or learning environment—the McGill community can only rely on itself for that.

No to the bureaucratic control and profiteering of the board of governors and all other unelected officials!

For democratic student, staff and faculty control over the administration of campus!