Thursday, February 9, 2012

Seriously Occupied

I have had much fun with the folks who have had much fun parodying the Occupation of the McGill administration building.  But there are some serious aspects to this.  McGill has posted various announcements about the status of the effort.  I am reposting one in its entirety, highlighting some stuff and then giving my reaction:

I am writing to update you tonight about the James Building occupation. Around 5 p.m., we cut power to the 6th floor, leaving emergency lighting on for safety. Some people have expressed concern on Twitter that security presence has been increased, fearing, perhaps, that the cut in power meant that the administration was going to take further steps. Security was not increased. We still want the 11 remaining protestors to leave peacefully, and we encourage them to do so. 

This morning, security officers had told us that one protestor was looking quite ill, and several were coughing. Professor Nicell then offered medical attention, but the occupier he was talking to did not feel it was necessary at that time. When we read a tweet later in the day saying that a protestor was ill and needed medication, Professor Nicell asked Dr. Tellier of the Student Health Services to go over to the James Building and meet with the protestors, which he did. They now have his cell phone number if they feel sick and would like to consult him. The ill protestor left before Dr. Tellier arrived.

Occupiers have water, some light, access to washrooms and to whatever food they brought in with them. They are free to leave the building if they are hungry, feel ill or need things like medication, as they have been free to do from the beginning of the occupation.

A theme of the responses to these updates is concern that the protestors are not facing any real consequences for their actions, and that McGill is now, as one student put it, a “consequence-free environment.” (Some people have also written of course to express support of the occupation.) As Professor Masi wrote to the protestors on the first day of the occupation, complaints will be lodged against the protestors under the Student Code of Conduct, and the normal procedures will be followed as a result. We are still doing everything in our power to continue to find a peaceful end to the protest and we will keep the lines of communications open with them.

The James Building will be closed again tomorrow, and staff continue to do their best to provide services from alternate locations on campus or at home. Researchers needing to contact the Research and International Relations office can do so via email, and graduate students should go to Service Point on McTavish Street. Questions can be sent and someone will forward your questions to the right person to make sure you get an answer. Again, we regret any inconvenience you may have experience, and we hope this will be resolved soon.
McGill is trying to have it both ways--that it is not repressing the effort while, well, trying to coerce the students to leave.  How? By denying power and food.  Yes, the students can get water and use the facilities, but they cannot re-supply and they cannot re-charge their cell phones or laptops.  I understand that McG does not want this to go on forever, but I think a better tactic would be to allow the students to get food and to communicate as much as they want.  Thus far, they have not been all that persuasive, provoking a significant counter-reaction by many students on campus.  But making them uncomfortable does not seem to be an appropriate approach. Let them dissent even it is inconvenient.  There is no need to bargain with the students over the QPIRG and CKUT funding since there are already plenty of student government organizations that are supposed to have that role.

Of course, it is easy for me to criticize since the students are not inconveniencing me.  On the other hand, I am not sure why the entire building needs to be closed either.  Liability paranoia is my guess.

Anyhow, letting the students be is probably a better approach, but at least McG is handling this and not the police.  I would guess that the threat to lodge complains is negotiable in order to get the students out peacefully.  Even Maoists or whatever should not be excessively punished for being idealistic rabble-rousers.

Oh, I am not a big fan of the occupiers or their cause [update: see here for their clearest statement].  I just think universities should avoid being coercive.

[another update: I do agree with the students that the administrative effort to change the names of student organizations to limit their identification with McGill is just about as bass-ackwards as one can imagine.  The students and their activities, even or especially the Quidditch team, are a major source of strength and pride].


Anonymous said...

Yes, McGill is trying to coerce the occupiers into leaving peacefully. What the occupiers are doing is worse; blackmail. Basically, we'll stay here until our demands are met. We want the deputy provost to resign. Period.

Since that's not going to happen, nor should it, if McGill didn't encourage these occupiers to leave, they'd stay there (on private property) for days, weeks, months perhaps.

Note: McGill clubs are allowed to use the McGill name. Only change is that they now have to apply for it. The McGill Quidditch team applied and were authorized to use include McGill.

Anonymous said...

I am trying to find out if the cutting of power to the occupied portion fo the 6th floor means there is no heat in that part of the building. Does anyone know? If it does I think this takes coercion to a new, and inappropriate, level.

Jake Bleiberg

Anonymous said...

The bathrooms are now locked as well, apparently. I can hear the coming screams of an inhumane administration.

Anonymous said...

If I decide to break into a house illegally, do the owners have to grant me access to their bathroom, to their electricity and allow me to order food in? Nothing is preventing these people from leaving. This is so ridiculous on so many levels.