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McGill Senate discusses Palestine, tuition hikes, and budget cuts

The McGill Senate convened on March 20 in Leacock for its third meeting of 2024. Central topics were student calls for McGill to cut ties with Israeli institutions, the tense atmosphere on campus over Israel’s siege on Gaza, and the ongoing legal battle between McGill and the provincial government over proposed tuition hikes.

The meeting began with memorial tributes to the late Professor Emeritus Radoslav Zuk and Professor Monica Popescu, followed by a discussion of the Senate Steering Committee report. The report explains that four motions related to the ongoing genocide of Palestinians had been submitted but were unanimously declined by the Steering Committee—meaning they were not on the agenda for discussion—on the grounds that they are not Senate business. These motions requested a condemnation of Israeli military presence in Gaza, the prohibition of academic trips to and exchanges to schools in Israel, and divestment from companies complicit in Israel’s occupation of Palestine. 

Senator Ipek Türeli asked for further clarification regarding the Senate Steering Committee’s rejection of the motions. McGill President Deep Saini stated that as a financial matter, divestment is an issue pertaining to the Board of Governors. Associate Provost (Equity and Academic Policies) Angela Campbell added that it would be “entirely inappropriate” for the Senate to impose restrictions on the specifics of academic courses.

“Senate has the purview to approve particular programs and courses in terms of what, generally, they speak to […] but they don’t speak to the specifics of what an instructor does with that course,” Campbell explained.

She added that the preamble “had many inconsistencies and errors,” an additional reason behind the motions’ rejection. 

Law Senator Weeam Ben Rejeb asked why the Senate did not offer other alternative paths to address this issue instead of simply turning it down on the basis that it is not within the Senate’s jurisdiction. Deputy Provost of Student Life and Learning Fabrice Labeau’s response was that there is an “established path” of bureaucratic procedures that allows subcommittees to deal with specific issues and motions before they come to the Senate. 

During his remarks, Saini acknowledged that the Board had chosen Pierre Boivin to be the University’s 21st Chancellor and that he would assume the role on July 1. He then moved on to discuss the “campus climate,” expressing an acceptance of political activism but only when it is practiced within specific bounds so as to minimize disruptions to the university’s operations. 

“Students and colleagues have the right to learn and work in a peaceful environment that is propitious for their success,” Saini said. “And when protest activities interfere with these rights, they are no longer acceptable. I reiterate that if this line is crossed—that is if demonstrations block access to buildings or otherwise interfere with campus activities—we will apply our policies and procedures to ensure that the university business can continue unimpeded.” 

President Saini also discussed McGill’s ongoing legal battle with the Quebec government over the proposed tuition hikes for out-of-province Canadian students and international students attending English-speaking universities in the province. McGill is asking the court to issue a stay, which would suspend the implementation of the proposed measures while the court deliberates on the challenges. 

He also clarified the misunderstanding about mandatory French proficiency levels, stating that French proficiency will not be a condition for graduation for McGill students, as some may have believed. In reality, 80 per cent of all undergraduate students from out of province will be expected to reach level-5 proficiency, or the university will be penalized in a yet-to-be-defined manner.

After Saini’s remarks, Ben Rejeb raised concerns about the health of the students who have been on a hunger strike for over a month to pressure the university to divest from companies complicit in Israel’s siege on Gaza. The hunger strikers’ online posts document their drastic weight loss and worsening health. Saini responded that the university is in touch with them, but remarked that the group of hunger strikers should follow the established processes to communicate with the university. Since the Senate meeting, one of the indefinite hunger strikers has been hospitalized due to deteriorating health from 34 days of starvation and has ended her strike.

Later, Provost and Executive Vice-President (Academic) Christopher Manfredi gave a presentation on budget planning, describing the theme of the 2025 fiscal year (FY2025) as “uncertainty.” 

Manfredi explained that in addition to the tuition increases for newly enrolled out-of-province students, the Quebec government’s re-regulation of tuition for international students will also impact McGill’s budget going into FY2025. 

“So we will now start getting a grant for those [international] students, but we will also have to start paying a forfaitaire [flat rate] for those students. And the grant will be roughly $12,000, the forfaitaire will be $17,000. So we’re going to lose roughly $5,000 per newly enrolled international student, starting with the cohort coming in fall 2024,” Manfredi said.

According to Manfredi, the university is looking to find roughly three million dollars 

in cost savings for FY2025—which starts on May 1, 2024, and ends on April 30, 2025—and more as the year progresses.

Moment of the meeting:

Senator Türeli pointed out that while the Senate Steering Committee’s report argued that the Senate’s prohibition of trips to Israel in individual academic courses would be an infringement on the professors’ academic freedom, their denial of the senators’ opportunity to debate the matter is just as much of an infringement. “In the Senate, we should have the academic freedom to discuss this important issue,” Senator Türeli said. 


“We’re not going to achieve savings through layoffs [….] We are going to have to probably reduce headcount through attrition as a blunt instrument.” — Manfredi, on strategies to cut costs for FY2025.

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