Why Student Life Suffers at Modern McGill

15 Apr, 2013

I am the fourth in my family to come to McGill. When I got my acceptance letter I was genuinely giddy; I wanted to go to a school that would be fun as well as give me a good degree and show an impressive name on my CV. I have had a great time here as I have learned a lot and made many friends. But through my three years here, I’ve come to understand that as long as the current culture of conflict exists, the betterment of the student experience will never be a top priority.

In the past, McGill made some changes that genuinely bettered student life. The hotel residences represented a massive step forward from the severely antiquated Bishop Mountain Residences built in 1962. Campus Wi-Fi was instituted, serving to support the advent of the modern e-school.

There are still major issues with the campus, however. The classrooms are poorly equipped for the modern student and though modern residences are great, there are still many residences in states of disrepair and neglect. These small steps forward were not revolutionary for McGill students, but they were beginnings of moves towards a greater focus on student welfare. Unfortunately, the events of the last few years have created an environment where it is difficult to see where or when the next improvement will come.

 As a student, I aim to speak for the greater student body. I want more for all of us. I want a complete re-engineering of Minerva so that it works properly and reliably. I would love for Service Point to be more accessible. I would like course selection to be reevaluated so that it does not simply reward the early risers with the best internet connection. In fact, while I’m dreaming, I would like to pay the Quebec resident tuition rather than swallow a 200 percent increase because I am from Toronto.

But why has McGill shown this neglect in terms of what should be its main focus? Though it would be the easy answer, I have a hard time believing it is due to apathy. Instead, I believe that  the true reason behind this lack of attention is more complex.

 In recent years, McGill has found itself walking a very narrow line between the demands of protesters and government bureaucrats. It is impossible for McGill to simultaneously capitulate to demands for lower tuition, conform to the PQ budget cuts of almost $40 million, and make any significant effort to appease the larger student body.

 The Bull & Bear writer Adam Banks spoke about the radical minority representing the greater McGill community over the apathetic majority. That is what is happening here – there hasn’t been a significant effort to better the lives of the average, suffer-in-silence student while McGill has to respond to the demands of protesting students. This is not a call for those of us who deserve this recognition to embrace our inner-radical, but an effort to understand the mindset of the school we attend.

 It is understandable however that McGill would listen more attentively to those who shout over those quietly complaining, but this is not a recipe for progress and betterment. Ceding to demands for lower tuition has put McGill in a bind. While creating dialog between these groups is a positive idea, this severely limits the administration’s options. When budget cuts are mandated, and tuition cannot be increased, and a majority of the budget is inflexible, the luxuries are the first to be removed.

The process of dealing with the budget restraints has already begun. Principal Heather Munroe-Blum has explained that the cuts will come from salary freezes, layoffs as well as a hiring freeze. While it is admirable that these changes seek to limit drastic change, it still represents a future where the focus will not be primarily on the students or the experience. Instead, it points to a McGill where the goal is not to be the best, but simply to stay afloat to maintain the equilibrium between student demands and a misguided government.

It is genuinely a tough spot to be in. McGill must cop to both the government and the protesters and it has become exceedingly unlikely that there will be an excess of money with which to better student life. It is a sad conclusion to draw, but for now the students of McGill will have to grit their teeth and bear this burden in hopes that somewhere down the line, the focus of the university will return to the students.

The views expressed in this opinion piece are the author’s own and do not necessarily represent those of The Bull & Bear.

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