On Tuesday February 8th 2012 a group of approximately 25 McGill students occupied the 6th floor of the McGill Administration Building. This was done as a result of the decision by McGill Administration to not recognize the results of a referenda questions posed by CKUT 90.3fm and QPIRG McGill. The occupation lasted six days. A group of approximately 60 students also occupied the ground floor and the space outside the building.
Some background: independent student groups are required to sign a Memorandum of Agreement (MOA) with McGill University. This contract covers such things as use of name, insurance requirements, conditions of fee transfer, amongst other things. In our history, these negotiations have been difficult for a multitude of reasons. In 2012, McGill University required all student groups to withdraw the name McGill from their name and in addition, they moved the collection of fees and the ability to opt out of fees on to an online system entitled Minerva. Certain groups within the Student Society of McGill University wanted to provide students with the ability to opt out of fees to increase accountability and to allow students who opposed the service provided by that particular group to withdraw their financial support. However, some student groups were concerned that given the simplicity of opting out online it would lead to blanket opting out and would result in a significant financial hit impeding the services which they are mandated to provide. These student groups provide services largely for minority or marginalized individuals and the funds that support them are not meant to be viewed as user fees.
The online opt outs forced student groups into perpetually campaigning for their fees and resulted in some ugly divisiveness on campus. There were numerous initiatives and groups trying to raise awareness and create debate about what kind of campus McGill students wanted.
All of this tension on campus eventually culminated in the occupation of the Administration Building. The occupation took place without the knowledge of CKUT and QPIRG McGill. It also came at the time of massive student demonstrations throughout Quebec against the raising of tuition by the province.
It is difficult to state definitively what the occupation accomplished. CKUT is no longer called McGill Radio; instead, we are Radio CKUT. We have to run an existence referendum, during which students are asked if they want to continue having a radio station on campus, every five years and students can still opt out of CKUT’s fees online.
However, there is no denying the resurgence in student activism and the struggle for equality and diversity on campus and in the station that the occupation inspired. Education should be a right and student groups are an important part of that education. We are all still learning.